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Over the years, the authorities have cracked down hard on political opposition and independent civil society, often using anti-terrorism laws. An OMCT report published in 2019 found that a new law on the Bar, as well as secret trials against several prominent human rights lawyers have led to a severe shortage of lawyers. In 2018, the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) condemned State officials’ impunity for acts of torture, unexplained deaths in custody, and inhuman conditions in prisons. At the same time, a coalition of anti-torture non governmental organisations (NGOs) has served as a model for the whole of Central Asia by managing to secure the first convictions of State security service officials involved in torture.
The authorities have increasingly restricted the legal space for human rights organisations and independent lawyers to provide assistance to victims of human rights violations, including torture. In particular, amendments to, among others, the Law on Public Associations - allegedly introduced to combat money laundering, terrorism and the financing of terrorism – have severely restricted the ability of human rights defenders and others to set up and run civil society organisations without undue interference. At the same time, various official bodies were handed tremendous powers to conduct frequent and intrusive inspections of NGOs. Finally, journalists and lawyers have been criminally prosecuted for defending victims.