Uzbekistan revives old security force
Uzbekistan’s National Security Service (SNB) used to be the most feared arm of the state until President Shavkat Mirziyoyev criticised the organisation for years of abuse.
But the shadowy force has reportedly been replaced by the long-dormant, reformed National Guard of Uzbekistan.
The National Guard was formed in 1992 as part of the armed forces to protect strategic sites and government figures. It was estimated to have around 1,000 members although that number has since grown.
In January, the National Guard trained with the Chinese Ministry of Public Security, which oversees China’s police.
In February last year, Tashmatov visited the Turkish Gendarmerie General Command, the branch of the security services responsible for public order.
In August 2017, Mirziyoyev removed the National Guard from the armed forces, giving it independent status.
On February 16 a member of the National Guard was filmed entering an empty karaoke club in Kokand and hiding a knife. Shortly after, the same guard leads police to “find” the blade.
The organisation quickly said the guardsman caught on camera planting the knife was under “investigation” but the authorities face limited judicial scrutiny.
The president has requested that the police and guards to co-operate to ensure public safety.
The National Guard’s website says it is responsible for the “protection and defence of objects of state importance, vital facilities, diplomatic, consular and other representative offices of foreign states” and the “property of individuals and legal entities”.
In addition, the National Guard now provides “assistance in ensuring the protection of public order and security in cities and towns” and “in the prevention of acts of terrorism and extremism”. Tashkent has taken a broad interpretation of these terms in the past, using them to include numerous government critics.
In January last year, Mirziyoyev told his Security Council that the National Guard should no longer be shuttled between the ministries of defence and interior, which led to a lack of training and weakening of the agency.
The National Guard is also “ensuring the territorial integrity and defence of the country” and controls the “import, export, purchase, storage and the use of firearms and hunting weapons”.
Changes to the Criminal Procedure Code during the summer meant the National Guard can now conduct pretrial probes and detain suspects in National Guard bases.
Its numbers have also swollen and its personnel are deployed across the Central Asian country.
The head of the National Guard is Bahodir Tashmatov, a former deputy defence minister, a one-time chief of the armed forces joint staff and an ex-head of the national Security Council.
The Uzbek authorities still allow few democratic rights. Picture credit: Eurasia Times