(CNN) Uzbekistan’s first and only president has died, leaving an uncertain future for a government marred by controversy.
President Islam Karimov, who ruled Uzbekistan for 25 years, died Friday, the Uzbek government announced on the state-run news agency Uza. He was 78 years old.
Karimov had a stroke and was hospitalised since last Saturday, his daughter Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva announced on Facebook.
Friday, she posted a black square on her official Instagram account, with the message, “He left us.”
His death leaves the future of the resource-rich country in question, said Andrey Kortunov, president of the New Eurasia Foundation.
There is “no master plan, no successor who has been endorsed and accepted by everybody (in Karimov’s inner circle),” Kortunov said.
Reign started in Soviet era
Karimov became leader of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic in 1989. Two years later, he declared the independence of the Republic of Uzbekistan and assumed the presidency of the new country.
In 1995, his mandate was extended for another five years by referendum. Despite a two-term limit, he won re-election in 2000, 2007 and 2015.
International critics, including Human Rights Watch, said voters had no real choice in the elections because the government restricts opposing political activity.
In 2007, Karimov made Parade magazine’s list of ‘World’s Worst Dictators’. In addition to violating the two-term limit, Parade said, “his government engages in routine torture of citizens and has subjected dissenters to forced psychiatric treatment.”
Karimov’s government has often been accused of human rights atrocities, including forced child labour, the killing of unarmed protesters and even boiling protesters alive.
Human Rights Watch calls the country’s human rights record “atrocious,” saying “thousands are imprisoned on politically-motivated charges. Torture is endemic in the criminal justice system. Authorities continue to crack down on civil society activists, opposition members, and journalists.”
Reporters Without Borders ranks Uzbekistan 166th out of 180 countries in terms of press freedom, noting that “Karimov subjects his country to the strictest censorship. No fewer than nine journalists are rotting in prison in the most abominable conditions.”