Uzbekistan has introduced the concept of plea bargaining into its justice system, opening the way for speedier trials and reduced prison terms for suspects who cooperate with investigators.
Although judges were previously reserved the right to hand down lenient sentences on the basis of mitigating factors, bargaining with investigators and prosecutors had not been possible until President Shavkat Mirziyoyev signed off on this reform on August 10.
“The study of legal and investigative practice and the consideration of petitions from citizens speak to the incomplete mechanisms for ensuring legal rights and personal freedoms during criminal trials,” the presidential decree reads.
The decree allows for plea bargaining for a select range of criminal offenses in the event that the suspect commits to a written agreement. Concessions may only be considered if the suspect admits to their guilt and pledges to make amends for harm caused. This can lead to eventual sentences being halved and a streamlined trial.
As Alisher Bobomurodov, a member of the Surkhandarya regional prosecutor's office, told Eurasianet, the courts have typically adopted an unyieldingly punitive approach. Defense lawyers requesting shortened sentences or who appealed to the judge to consider mitigating circumstances have customarily been given short shrift.
The language of the presidential decree states that the authors of the reform considered international standards and precedent when drafting their own proposals.
The same decree reiterates the mandatory requirement for citizens to have access to legal representation upon arrest and when the detainee is formally recognized as a criminal suspect.
It will take some time before the results of this potentially more lenient system become clear.
According to Supreme Court figures, around 12,800 people were convicted in the first half of 2020. Of those, 3,896 were given prison sentences.
Justice system reform is a particular priority for Mirziyoyev, who is eager to impress on foreign investors that Uzbekistan is embracing the principles of right of law. This agenda has hit road bumps along the way, however.
One troubling high-profile case occurred in late May in the Ferghana Valley city of Andijan, when 44-year-old jewel trader Alijon Abdukarimov was beaten during questioning at the hands of police officers. Abdukarimov’s condition after the beatings was so bad, he had to be hospitalized and he eventually died from his injuries.
The incident sparked an unusually vocal public reaction, including from lawmakers, who demanded that measures be put in place to avoid a repeat occurrence.
One firm outcome was a pledge for all interrogation rooms in police stations to be installed with close-circuit cameras.