Uzbekistan

Not Free
27
100
A Obstacles to Access 7 25
B Limits on Content 12 35
C Violations of User Rights 8 40
Last Year's Score & Status
26 100 Not Free
Scores are based on a scale of 0 (least free) to 100 (most free)

header1 Overview

During the coverage period, Uzbekistan registered another incremental increase in internet freedom, its fourth consecutive improvement in its Freedom on the Net score. Access rates in the country continued to grow, although authorities have not loosened their grip over the information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure, despite pledging to do so. In a welcome move, the government unblocked another tranche of websites in December 2019, although it also moved to impose new restrictions on bloggers, perhaps out of recognition that an ever-increasing number of citizens consume news from independent Telegram channels and other social media platforms. Citizens continued to face legal and extrajudicial consequences for their online activities, as evinced by March 2020 revelations that journalists and human rights defenders had been the targets of a sophisticated phishing campaign.

While ongoing reforms under President Shavkat Mirziyoyev have led to improvements on some issues, including a modest reduction in media repression and reforms that mandated more female legislative candidates, Uzbekistan remains an authoritarian regime with little movement toward democratization.

header2 Key Developments, June 1, 2019 - May 31, 2020

  • At the end of September 2019, blogger Nafosat Olloshukurova was forcibly placed in a psychiatric facility after she had begun a hunger strike to protest her treatment while she had been detained previously. Though she was released in December, the forced medical treatment without consent reprised a form of repression thought to be confined to Uzbekistan’s past (see C3).
  • In October 2019, a government agency proposed a regulation requiring bloggers and website owners to delete content deemed to conflict with national legislation within 24 hours of being notified (see B3).
  • In December 2019, the government unblocked a number of websites, including those belonging to human rights organizations and those hosting user-generated content (see B1).
  • In March 2020, Amnesty International reported that a number of human rights defenders from Uzbekistan had been the targets of a sophisticated phishing campaign seeking to install spyware on their devices (see C8).
  • In April 2020, the government issued a decree pledging that all settlements would have high-speed internet by 2021. This ambitious plan would help close the yawning digital divide between the capital and the rest of the country (see A2).

A Obstacles to Access

A growing portion of the population had internet access during the coverage period. However, stark geographical disparities in internet access persist, even as the government pledged to bridge this digital divide.

A1 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Do infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet or the speed and quality of internet connections? 3.003 6.006

Internet penetration rates continued to rise across Uzbekistan. Internet access is based primarily on asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL) technology. According to the 2020 Inclusive Internet Index from the Economist Intelligence Unit, 80 percent of households in Uzbekistan have access to the internet.1 The country’s fixed-line internet subscription rate was estimated at 10 percent, but its mobile penetration rate was 76 percent.2 The Ministry for Development of Information Technologies and Communications (MiTC) claimed there were 22 million internet users (in a country of roughly 33 million people), including 19 million mobile internet users, in January 2020.3

Internet connection speeds remain relatively slow but are improving. Subscribers experience poor connection quality and frequent disconnections. According to Speedtest, as of May 2020, the average fixed broadband download speed was 26.48 Mbps (placing Uzbekistan 97th globally), while the average mobile broadband download speed was 11.20 Mbps (128th place globally).4 During the previous coverage period, Uztelecom, the state-run telecommunications monopoly, upgraded the bandwidth of Uzbekistan international internet channels to 1.2 Tbps.5 In April 2020, responding to complaints about slow speeds,6 the MiTC explained that networks were congested due to increased usage during the COVID-19 pandemic, which confined many citizens to their homes.7

Mobile service providers deliver second-generation (2G), 3G and, 4G services, with almost full coverage of the population by 2G (98 percent) and 3G (75 percent) networks. Only in large towns, which account for 43 percent of the population, is 4G technology available.8 Two state-owned mobile service providers, Ucell and UzMobile, began testing 5G services in September 2019.9

Uztelecom and several mobile service providers offer public Wi-Fi hotspots in limited locations. In February 2018, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev signed a decree that introduced tax relief and advertisement rights for businesses investing in Wi-Fi hotspots.10 In December 2018, SOLA, a private company working in partnership with state authorities, reported that 1,200 hotspots were available in Tashkent, with another 3,800 on the way.11 SOLA also outlined its plans to set up 45,000 Wi-Fi hotspots across the country, to boost international tourism. However, in December 2019, SOLA wrote that its services were available at “more than 270” locations in Tashkent.12 In addition, the State Committee for Tourism Development announced that only 1,925 public Wi-Fi hotspots had been installed in 2019,13 and it projects that the number of public Wi-Fi hotspots will reach just 2,614 by the end of 2020.14 Public access points are popular, particularly among young internet users.

Since 2005, public institutions such as schools, youth organizations, libraries, and museums must connect to the wider internet via ZiyoNET,15 a nationwide information network that enables a greater degree of government monitoring and filtering (see C5).

A2 1.00-3.00 pts0-3 pts
Is access to the internet prohibitively expensive or beyond the reach of certain segments of the population for geographical, social, or other reasons? 0.000 3.003

In general, access to the internet remains expensive relative to household income in Uzbekistan. Prices for communications services, including internet subscriptions, increased slightly during the coverage period, according to official price index statistics.1 The government reported in late 2019 that the average nominal monthly wage was about 2.2 million soms (equivalent to about $230).2 Meanwhile, according to data gathered by the company Cable in the fourth quarter of 2019 and the first quarter of 2020, the monthly cost of a fixed-line broadband connection was $11.44 on average,3 while one gigabyte (GB) of mobile data cost $1.34 on average.4 The Economist Intelligence Unit ranked Uzbekistan 88th out of 100 countries in terms of the affordability of internet connections. Both monthly fixed-line internet subscriptions and monthly 1 GB mobile data plans cost two percent of gross national income (GNI) per capita.5 According to the World Bank, Uzbekistan’s GNI per capita was $1,800 in 2019.6

In November 2019, the government began to obligate consumers to pay a fee in order to register their mobile devices’ international mobile equipment identity (IMEI) codes (see C4), introducing another cost to getting online. An online petition to abolish this fee on the government’s petition platform gathered 24,715 signatures,7 but as of June 2020, there was no information about official engagement with this appeal, even though it exceeded the 10,000-signature threshold required for parliamentary consideration.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, mobile service provider Beeline allowed customers to access certain online resources without using up their prepaid data allowances,8 as did state-owned mobile service providers Ucell, UMS, and UzMobile.9 Moreover, in March 2020, the MiTC decreed that telecommunications companies must abstain from cutting off their customers from internet and telephone services for two months after the month that a customer fails to pay.10

Internet penetration rates are significantly lower outside of Tashkent, the capital. Tashkent has the highest rate of internet penetration and fiber-to-the-building (FTTB) broadband connectivity in Uzbekistan, significantly higher than the country’s 12 administrative regions and the autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan.11 Through investments like the massive Tashkent City redevelopment project12 and Tashkent’s IT Park campus (inaugurated in 2019),13 the capital enjoys a marked advantage over the rest of the country in terms of ICT development. Indeed, the government’s focus on Tashkent as the proving ground for the country’s economic liberalization drive, along with multimillionaire Mayor Jahongir Ortiqkhojaev’s beneficial ownership of a number of contracting firms, indicate that the capital is deliberately advantaged. Furthermore, ICT infrastructure depends on a stable electricity supply, which is lacking in some rural areas.14

President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has announced that 12,000 kilometers of fiber-optic cables and 2,200 new cellular base stations would be installed throughout the country in 2020.15 However residential areas outside Tashkent still have far fewer high-speed FTTB connections, as shown by national ISPs’ coverage maps.16 In April 2020, Mirziyoyev issued a decree stating that all settlements would have high-speed internet by 2021.17

Individuals who are not of legal majority are officially prohibited from visiting internet cafés unsupervised between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.18

A3 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does the government exercise technical or legal control over internet infrastructure for the purposes of restricting connectivity? 3.003 6.006

The government exercises significant control over ICT infrastructure.1

State-owned Uztelecom runs the International Packet Switching Center, which aggregates international internet traffic at a single point within its infrastructure. By centralizing international connections into one “choke point” (and concentrating the ICT sector in a state-owned company), the government can more easily shut down the internet and engage in surveillance. Uztelecom is also an upstream internet service provider (ISP) and sells internet traffic to domestic ISPs at wholesale prices. Private ISPs are prohibited by law from bypassing Uztelecom’s infrastructure to connect to the international internet, and from installing and maintaining their own satellite stations to establish internet connectivity. The government reportedly plans to permit private ISPs to establish their own connections to the international internet in 2020.2 This goal had not been realized by June 2020, and the lack of efficient channels to the international internet remains a chief complaint of local entrepreneurs.3

The TAS-IX peering center and content delivery network, established in 2004, interconnects the networks of private ISPs to enable traffic conveyance and exchange at no mutual charge, and without the need to establish international internet connections via Uztelecom.4 Private ISPs provide no traffic limitations to websites hosted within the TAS-IX networks but filter and block other websites to the same extent as Uztelecom.5

The authorities have been known to periodically impose temporary internet shutdowns. The most notable recent case occurred in Tashkent circa 2016 after Uztelecom warned of disruptions for maintenance purposes; observers speculated at the time that the disturbance was related to the installation of surveillance equipment.6 The authorities also order mobile service providers to shut down internet and text message services nationwide to prevent cheating during university entrance exams held every August.7

Several Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services, including Skype, WhatsApp, and Viber, have been persistently unavailable to users in Uzbekistan since 2015. However, in May 2018, access to these services was reportedly restored.8 That month, the CEO of Uztelecom, speaking at an event hosted by the MiTC, blamed the VoIP blocks on a technical bug.9 Currently, certain services are sometimes unavailable via broadband or mobile internet connections. For example, in June 2019, Uztelecom customers complained that they could only access WhatsApp through a virtual private network (VPN).10 Customers made similar complaints about Skype in April 2020.11 The web browser Opera has been persistently blocked,12 although Uztelecom insists that there are “no restrictions on equipment to which the company’s specialists have access.”13

In November 2018, the president signed a decree reorganizing the country’s internet governance apparatus, creating the State Inspectorate for Control in the Field of Information and Telecommunications to oversee compliance with ICT-related legislation; the Technical Assistance Center, in order to collect, retain, and analyze data from ISPs and law enforcement bodies on “threats to information security”; and a third entity to help implement the government’s Safe City surveillance system (see C5).14 The extent to which this decree has been implemented was not fully known as of June 2020.

A4 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Are there legal, regulatory, or economic obstacles that restrict the diversity of service providers? 1.001 6.006

There are numerous legal, regulatory, and economic obstacles that restrict the diversity of Uzbekistan’s ICT sector. Officially, hundreds of companies provide telecommunications services,1 and as of April 2020, there were some 8,200 telecommunications businesses.2

However, the state dominates the ICT sector. State-owned Uztelecom enjoys a monopoly in the fixed broadband market. Five mobile service providers operate in the mobile market, including three state-owned firms: Ucell, UMS (Mobiuz), and UzMobile, as well as two privately owned operators: Perfectum Mobile (owned by the Uzbek company Rubicon Wireless Communication) and Beeline (Unitel), which is owned by Netherlands-based VEON. Ucell, the second-largest mobile service provider (after Beeline),3 was acquired by the government in November 2018 after its former owner, Sweden’s Telia Company, announced in 2015 that it would exit Uzbekistan.4 Beeline’s subscriber base reportedly shrunk by one million in 2019, while its total revenue fell by over 8 percent, largely to increased excise duties on mobile services.5

Service providers are required to have licenses to operate, and in 2005, the Cabinet of Ministers adopted Resolution No. 155, which stipulates that providers must register as a legal entity before being issued a license.6 Licensing is often encumbered by political interests and has historically been marred by bribery.7

Other factors impeding telecommunications companies’ operations include an unstable regulatory environment and complicated customs procedures for the import of ICT equipment.

A5 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do national regulatory bodies that oversee service providers and digital technology fail to operate in a free, fair, and independent manner? 0.000 4.004

The MiTC regulates telecommunications services related to the internet. The ministry takes on the role of policymaker, regulator, and content provider, and thus is responsible for, inter alia, licensing ISPs and mobile service providers (see A4), promoting technical standards for telecommunications technologies, and providing e-governance services. The MiTC is not independent and operates opaquely.

The state-owned Uzinfocom administers the “.uz” top-level domain. Sixteen private companies were authorized to provide registry services in the “.uz” domain zone as of May 2020.1

  • 1. Computerization and Information Technologies Developing Center, " РЕГИСТРАТОРЫ [Administrators,]” http://cctld.uz/reg/

B Limits on Content

A growing number of websites that host content protected under international human rights standards were unblocked during the coverage period. However, authorities continued to pressure online journalists and ordinary users.

B1 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does the state block or filter, or compel service providers to block or filter, internet content? 3.003 6.006

Score Change: The score improved from 2 to 3 due to the unblocking of several websites that are associated with human rights organizations, as well as websites that host user-generated content.

Significant blocking and filtering limit access to online content related to political and social topics, particularly to sites and platforms that discuss human rights abuses in Uzbekistan. However, a number of websites for independent media outlets and human rights groups have been restored in recent years.

In December 2019, journalist Katy Putz and human rights researcher Steve Swerdlow reported that they could not access the websites of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, the International Partnership for Human Rights, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, and the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights (since renamed the Uzbek Forum for Human Rights) while in Uzbekistan.1 Shortly thereafter, the Agency for Information and Mass Communications (AIMK), a relatively new government agency which serves as a media regulator, announced that the websites were not, in fact, blocked, claiming it “conducted a study and found that there are no restrictions on access to the above web resources.”2 Putz and Swerdlow subsequently reported that they were then able to access the websites.3 Commentators speculated that the decision to unblock these websites was related to parliamentary elections held on December 22, 2019, which attracted global attention.4

That same month, domestic news outlet Spot.uz reported that a number of websites hosting user-generated content, including BuzzFeed, Lurkmore, the Internet Archive, SoundCloud, and WordPress were unblocked, as was independent Russian news service TV Rain.5 According to a user who had complained about the blocks, these websites were initially restricted because they allegedly hosted extremist or pornographic content.6

In September 2019, users complained that several VPN services, including CyberGhost VPN, Express VPN, and NordVPN were blocked by Uztelecom.7 Similarly, the Opera web browser reportedly remained blocked (see A3) as of May 2020 because it features a built-in proxy service.8 These services allow users to access web resources that remain censored in Uzbekistan. (Meanwhile, Uztelecom provides its own VPN.9)

In May 2019, Komil Allamjonov, the director of the AIMK, announced in a post on social media that access to certain online media outlets and human rights organizations would be restored,10 following a statement from the OSCE.11 The websites of many independent online media outlets had been largely inaccessible since 2005,12 following a violent government crackdown on peaceful antigovernment protests in Andijan.13 Access was restored to a variety of international and domestic news sites, including Voice of America (VoA), Amerika Ovozi (VoA’s Uzbek service), BBC Uzbek, the English-language service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Deutsche Welle (DW), AsiaTerra, Eurasianet, Fergana News, UzMetronom, and Centre1.14 Additionally, the websites of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reporters without Borders (RSF), and other online media outlets and human rights organizations were unblocked. Allamjonov did not say that the government had blocked these websites, blaming “certain technical problems” for their long-term unavailability.15

Other websites hosting political, social, and religious content, including the Uzbek news service Eltuz,16 the religious freedom organization Forum 18,17 RFE/RL’s Russian and Uzbek services (Radio Svoboda and Radio Ozodlik), and the public opinion platforms Avaaz and Change.org,18 remained inaccessible during the coverage period. Allamjonov explained the continued blocking of the RFE/RL websites by pointing to their alleged neglect for “ethical principles.”19 Additionally, days after Allamjonov’s May 2019 announcement, access to UzMetronom was again restricted (though later reinstated). In August 2019, the AIMK lashed out at RFE/RL after Radio Ozodlik published segments of a blogger’s interview with Allamjonov, calling it “a supporter of dishonest methods of information work.” The agency also accused RFE/RL of working with a network of fake accounts on social media to smear Allamjonov.20

Officials and Uztelecom representatives continued to insist that they were not responsible for any currently blocked websites and that those responsible for censorship in the past had been punished.21 However, users continued to have difficulty accessing certain websites, like those mentioned above, without the use of proxy or VPN services.

B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do state or nonstate actors employ legal, administrative, or other means to force publishers, content hosts, or digital platforms to delete content? 1.001 4.004

There is extensive nontechnical censorship of online content in Uzbekistan, although it is not always widely reported.

In the wake of the collapse of a dam near the town of Sardoba in May 2020, officials pressured a number of journalists who work online and ordinary users to delete footage of and commentary on the disaster. In one case, a recording of two journalists criticizing state media’s coverage of the incident was scrubbed from the internet.1 The journalists were subsequently fired. In another, a reporter for the state-run Uzbek National News Agency deleted a Facebook post in which she revealed that Sardoba resident had been told not to talk about the incident.2 She later resigned under duress. Meanwhile the administrator of a popular Telegram channel TROLL.UZ received a call from the AIMK asking him to remove a post about the disaster or face a fine for spreading false information.3 As of May 2020, the post remained online.

In March 2020, the AIMK ordered activist Irina Matviyenko to remove “immoral content” that violated the Law on Information from her website NeMolchi.uz, which publishes stories by survivors of gender-based violence and domestic abuse.4 Matviyenko refused to comply with the order and instead publicized her case. The ensuing outcry forced the AIMK to backtrack, and in April 2020, it revoked the takedown order, pledging to “revise the criteria for analyzing the content of publications on these issues in the media.”5

In December 2019, the AIMK announced that Adham Eltoyev, a city council candidate from the Adolat Party, had requested the removal of a defamatory comment about him in a Facebook group. The commenter alleged that Eltoyev had taken bribes and called him a “bastard.” After an investigation, the AIMK concluded that the comment contravened the Law on Information and noted with approval that the group administrator had already removed it.6

In October 2019, the AIMK reportedly removed an article on the short-lived news website Togri.uz about a high-ranking Russian official’s visit.7

In September 2019, a user was placed in administrative detention for 10 days after being found guilty of insulting appointed officials in a Facebook post (see C3). Pressured by authorities, the user deleted the offending post and pledged to abstain from criticizing officials online.8

During 2019, neither Facebook nor Twitter received any takedown requests from the government, according to the companies’ latest transparency reports.9 Google did receive one takedown request from the government related to copyright violation.10

B3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do restrictions on the internet and digital content lack transparency, proportionality to the stated aims, or an independent appeals process? 0.000 4.004

The AIMK and the MiTC are responsible for regulating online content—particularly, content deemed harmful to the government. Decisions to block or remove content are nontransparent.

In September 2019, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev signed a decree requiring the Ministry of Justice and the Supreme Court to publish an up-to-date list of “organizations, websites, social networks and mobile messengers recognized… as extremist or terrorist and banned in the territory of the Republic of Uzbekistan.”1 The Ministry of Justice and the Supreme Court do publish this information on their websites,2 but, according to reporting from RFE/RL, it is outdated.3 Reportedly, the most up-to-date list includes social media “accounts and videos of several imams and religious preachers” along with a Vice News video featuring Uzbek-speaking Islamic State (IS) fighters.

In October 2019, the government drafted a law that would empower the AIMK to notify bloggers or website owners that they are hosting “information that contradicts the legislation of the Republic of Uzbekistan” and demand the information’s removal within 24 hours.4 This notice-and-takedown regime would seemingly apply to information posted on social media platforms and communications apps. According to Amnesty International, the regulation has since been passed by parliament and approved by the president,5 but this was not reflected on the government’s legal information portal.

In September 2018, the government introduced guidelines on blocking websites. These guidelines mark the government’s first attempt to legitimize blocking, a practice it has long engaged in informally. According to the guidelines, the state-run Center for Mass Communications (under the AIMK) now engages in “round-the-clock tracking of the dissemination of information prohibited by Uzbek law on the internet,” forwarding any illegal content to two state bodies, the Public Monitoring Center and the Expert Commission on Information and Mass Communications. These two administrative bodies then place any flagged content on a confidential blacklist that the MiTC uses as the basis for imposing restrictions.6 The expansive category of “prohibited” information, which is defined under the Law on Informatization, includes “calls for a forced change of the existing constitutional order” and material that threatens the territorial integrity of Uzbekistan; “propaganda of war, violence, and terrorism,” as well as sites that promote religious extremism, separatism, and fundamentalism; state secrets; incitements to “national, racial, ethnic, or religious hatred;” defamation; material that violates the right to privacy; content pertaining to illegal drugs; and pornography.7

Under these new guidelines, owners of blocked websites have the right to issue a complaint in court. Further, the authorities have pledged to unblock any blocked sites that voluntarily remove illegal content.8

Whether the government’s longstanding informal website-blocking regime remains in place is unclear. Under this regime, several security bodies monitored and controlled online communications, though the opaque system offers few details on how decisions are made or what websites are blocked at any given time.

Amendments from 2014 to the Law on Informatization, passed in 2014, brought bloggers and other online news providers, including citizen journalists, under state regulation and subjects them to content removal requirements. The law’s broad definition could qualify any person who disseminated information “of sociopolitical, socioeconomic, and other character” to the public through a website as a blogger.9 The law requires bloggers to substantiate the credibility of “generally accessible information” prior to publishing or even reposting content, and obliges them to “immediately remove” information if it is not considered credible.

This law entitles the Center for Mass Communications to limit access to websites that do not comply with its provisions. It also bans, among other things, “information inciting national, racial, ethnic, or religious hatred, as well as denigrating the honor and dignity of citizens.”10

Intermediaries can be held liable for third-party content hosted on their platforms and can be forced to remove such content. Under the 1999 Law on Telecommunications and several subsequent government resolutions, the licenses of downstream ISPs may be withheld or denied for failing to take measures to prevent their computer networks from being used to exchange information deemed to violate national laws. Under Order No. 216 passed in 2004, ISPs and operators “cannot disseminate information that, inter alia, calls for the violent overthrow of the constitutional order of Uzbekistan, instigates war and violence, contains pornography, or degrades and defames human dignity.”11 Given these broad restrictions, some individuals and organizations prefer to host their websites outside the country.12

  • 1. “ДИНИЙ-МАЪРИФИЙ СОҲА ФАОЛИЯТИНИ ТАКОМИЛЛАШТИРИШ БЎЙИЧА ҚЎШИМЧА ЧОРА-ТАДБИРЛАР ТЎҒРИСИДA [On Additional Measures to Improve Religious Education,]” Lex.UZ, https://lex.uz/ru/docs/4500897
  • 2. “Экстремистик ташкилот номлари рўйхати маълум қилинди [The List of names of extremist organizations has been revealed,]” https://www.minjust.uz/upload/iblock/d21/doc.docx; “организаций, признанных террористическими и запрещённых в Республике Узбекистан [List of terrorist organizations banned in the Republic of Uzbekistan,]” September 26, 2016, https://perma.cc/6VJ6-CLBJ
  • 3. Farangis Najibullah, “’Reforming’ Uzbekistan Makes Big Additions To List of Banned Material, Websites,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, January 26, 2020, https://www.rferl.org/a/reforming-uzbekistan-makes-big-additions-to-lis…
  • 4. “ПОСТАНОВЛЕНИЕ КАБИНЕТА МИНИСТРОВ РЕСПУБЛИКИ УЗБЕКИСТАН ЎЗБЕКИСТОН РЕСПУБЛИКАСИ ВАЗИРЛАР МАҲКАМАСИНИНГ [Appointment of the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Uzbekistan,]” Discussion of Draft Regulatory Documents of the Republic of Uzbekistan, October, 19, 2019, https://regulation.gov.uz/ru/document/9308
  • 5. “Blogging in Uzbekistan: welcoming tourism, silencing criticism,” Amnesty International, June 25, 2020, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2020/06/blogging-in-uzbekis…
  • 6. “Government Resolution on Measures to Improve Information Security on the World Wide Web has been adopted,” Telegram Channel @huquqiy_axborot representing the Ministry of Justice of Uzbekistan, September 6, 2018, https://teletype.in/@huquqiy_axborot/SJSw8HAwm
  • 7. “Government Resolution on Measures to Improve Information Security on the World Wide Web has been adopted,” Telegram Channel @huquqiy_axborot representing the Ministry of Justice of Uzbekistan, September 6, 2018, https://teletype.in/@huquqiy_axborot/SJSw8HAwm
  • 8. Maksim Yeniseyev, “New regulations in Uzbekistan detail procedures to block extremist websites,” Caravanserai, October 1, 2018, http://central.asia-news.com/en_GB/articles/cnmi_ca/features/2018/10/01…
  • 9. “Law of the Republic of Uzbekistan: No. ЗРУ-373, SZRU (2014) No. 36, item 452,;“ http://www.lex.uz/ru/docs/82956
  • 10. “Regulation of Blogger’s Activity in Uzbekistan: Implications for Freedom of Religion and Belief,” Central Asia Program, January 14, 2015, https://centralasiaprogram.org/archives/event/120-blogging-in-uzbekistan
  • 11. Regulation, ОпорядкепредоставлениядоступаксетиИнтернетвобщественныхпунктахпользования, [On Adoption of the Terms of Provision of Access to the Internet Network in Public Points of Use] promulgated by Order of the Communications and Information Agency of Uzbekistan No. 216, July 23, 2004, SZRU (2004) No. 30, item 350.
  • 12. “Управление национальными доменами в СНГ [42% of UZ domain websites were hosted abroad. “Managing national domains in CIS,]” Top Web Business, January 13, 2018, http://topwebbusinesses.net/item/896-1515809849; “Кибербезопасность Узбекистана в цифрах: итоги 2018 года [“Cybersecurity of Uzbekistan in numbers: 2018 results,]”CyberSecurity UZ, https://tace.uz/articles/kiberbezopasnost-uzbekistana-v-tsifrakh-itogi-…
B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do online journalists, commentators, and ordinary users practice self-censorship? 1.001 4.004

The slight opening of the online environment since President Mirziyoyev took office in 2016 has had a positive impact on self-censorship, although it still remains pervasive, given the government’s tight control over the media (particularly state media). Those commenting or reporting on topics deemed taboo, including criticism of the president or revelations about corruption, can still face harsh punishment. As a result of the government’s history of harassing journalists as well as their families, many online writers are cautious about what they post. Although some domestic news outlets continue to shine a light on abuses of power, other outlets refrain from tackling sensitive issues.

After the well-publicized arrest of blogger Bobomurod Abdullayev in 2017, some social media users have abstained from aggressive criticism of the government while in Uzbekistan, with only foreign-based Uzbeks sharing their opinions freely.1

Several recent events have clarified the continued existence of the government’s resistance to free expression on the internet. A reporter from independent outlet Hook.report was summoned to the Ministry of Internal Affairs for an “informal conversation” prior to publishing an online story about religious refugees from Uzbekistan. He was detained for five hours and threatened with prosecution “for promoting and abetting terrorism.”2 In November 2019, a leaked audio recording documented Tashkent mayor Jahongir Ortiqkhojaev berating journalists from Kun.uz, threatening to have them kidnapped and to claim they are gay in a context where LBGT+ people are subject to physical violence. The recording sparked immediate domestic and international outrage. Kun.uz then published a complete version of the recording (which contextualized Ortiqkhojaev’s remarks somewhat)3 and urged its readers “not to discuss this issue anymore.”4 An investigation subsequently criticized Ortiqkhojaev but cleared him of wrongdoing.5 Meanwhile, two Kun.uz journalists resigned in the scandal’s aftermath.6

  • 1. “Тайна Усмана Хакназарова: журналист из Узбекистана, которого не было ["Secret of Usman Khaknazarov: journalist from Uzbekistan who never existed,]" February 14, 2020, https://perma.cc/L89P-RMVE/
  • 2. Darina Solod, “Why Uzbekistan’s journalists still yearn for change,” openDemocracy, May 23, 2020, https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/odr/uzbekistan-journalists-yearning-fo…
  • 3. “«Я не будут делать такие грязные вещи». Подробная аудиозапись и стенограмма беседы Джахонгира Артыкходжаева с журналистами Kun.uz [“I won’t do such dirty things.” Detailed audio recordings and transcript of the conversation between Jakhongir Ortiqkhojaev and Kun.uz journalists,]” Kun.UZ, November 19, 2019, https://kun.uz/ru/news/2019/11/18/xokim-artykxodjayev-vstretilsya-s-jur…
  • 4. “«Я не будут делать такие грязные вещи». Подробная аудиозапись и стенограмма беседы Джахонгира Артыкходжаева с журналистами Kun.uz [“I won’t do such dirty things.” Detailed audio recordings and transcript of the conversation between Jakhongir Ortiqkhojaev and Kun.uz journalists,]” Kun.UZ, November 19, 2019, https://kun.uz/ru/news/2019/11/18/xokim-artykxodjayev-vstretilsya-s-jur…
  • 5. “Генпрокуратура прокомментировала аудиозапись с участием хокима Ташкента [The Prosecutor General’s Office commented on the audio recording with the participation of the khokim of Tashkent,]” Kun.uz, November 27, 2019, https://kun.uz/ru/news/2019/11/27/genprokuratura-prokommentirovala-audi…
  • 6. Farangis Najibullah, “’No Winners In This Fight!’: Journalists Resign After Tashkent Mayor’s ‘Death,’ ‘Gay’ Threats,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, November 20, 2019, https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbek-journalists-resign-after-tashkent-mayors-…
B5 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are online sources of information controlled or manipulated by the government or other powerful actors to advance a particular political interest? 2.002 4.004

The editorial direction of online versions of state-run news outlets is determined by both official and unofficial directives. This has remained the case under President Shavkat Mirziyoyev. In April 2019, Saida Mirziyoyeva, president Mirziyoyev’s daughter, was appointed deputy head of the AIMK. In her new role, Mirziyoyeva promoted “Uzbekistan’s positive image abroad" and coordinated the press offices of various state agencies.1 Mirziyoyeva and the AIMK’s inaugural director, Komil Allamjonov, resigned in January 2020.2

The case of Said-Adbulaziz Yusupov, a journalist who was arrested and charged with fraud in May 2019, illustrates the extent to which the government directs Uzbekistan’s media. According to state prosecutors, he misrepresented himself as a National Security Service (SGB) officer to extort money.3 Komil Allamjonov prohibited state-run outlets from covering Yusupov’s case, saying, “Once the SGB arrested him, it means he is guilty.”4 Allamjonov’s statement surprised some analysts, in light of the mass restoration of online access to human rights organizations and independent media. (Yusupov was found guilty later in the year but was released from prison in July 2020.5)

The government has sought to tightly control the narrative around the COVID-19 outbreak in the country by using state-run outlets to amplify positive stories and forbidding doctors to speak to independent journalists, among other tactics.6 In addition, independent news outlets and administrators of prominent Telegram channels were warned not to share “fake news” related to the pandemic under penalty of prosecution (see C3).

The Union of Youth of Uzbekistan, a government-affiliated youth organization, has recruited social media trolls from its ranks. These trolls smear government critics and spread disinformation, including false claims about the illegality of VPN usage in Uzbekistan. According to Hook.report, union members have been encouraged to set up five Facebook profiles per person.7 According to researchers at Oxford University, progovernment commentators are also active on Twitter.8 These commentators could be observed throughout the coverage period. For example, blogger Kirill Altman was bombarded with abusive comments for an ironic January 2020 post about patriotism on his Facebook account. The commentators mostly comprised students at Uzbekistan’s University of Journalism and Mass Communication.9 In April 2020, the Ministry of Internal Affairs proposed the creation of “a virtual group of patriotic bloggers with the participation of members of the Youth Union of Uzbekistan, students of the Tashkent University of Information Technologies, and volunteer youth” to “identify negative opinions on social networks and create an atmosphere of intolerance to negative comments.”10

B6 1.00-3.00 pts0-3 pts
Are there economic or regulatory constraints that negatively affect users’ ability to publish content online? 0.000 3.003

The economic and regulatory environment for online publishers is heavily constrained. The financial sustainability of independent online media outlets largely depends on foreign funding that remains subject to vigorous state control. The parliamentary Public Fund for Support and Development of Independent Print Media and News Agencies of Uzbekistan allocates state subsidies,1 which are primarily granted to state-owned and progovernment outlets.

Under 2007 amendments to the Law on Mass Media,2 any website engaged in the dissemination of information at least once every six months is considered “mass media” and is subject to official press registration.3 This registration process can be arbitrary, inhibiting journalists and readers from exercising their rights to free expression and access to information. A December 2019 regulation requires new mass media, including mass media whose work is distributed online, to register—for a fee—with the AIMK.4 The regulation simplifies the registration process (it can now be done online and takes half the time it used to).5

According to former AIMK head Komil Allamjonov, there were 200 active bloggers and 1,765 mass media outlets (of which 562 were online) in 2019.6 Journalists who work online are subject to extensive regulation (see B3), and, as the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX) 2019 Media Sustainability Index reports, “only the state can decide who is permitted to practice journalism” in Uzbekistan.7 However, unregistered bloggers have taken an increasingly prominent place in the country’s media landscape, with the tacit approval of the government.

  • 1. “УКАЗ ПРЕЗИДЕНТА РЕСПУБЛИКИ УЗБЕКИСТАН ОБ ОБРАЗОВАНИИ ОБЩЕСТВЕННОГО ФОНДА ПОДДЕРЖКИ И РАЗВИТИЯ НЕЗАВИСИМЫХ ПЕЧАТНЫХ СРЕДСТВ МАССОВОЙ ИНФОРМАЦИИ И ИНФОРМАЦИОННЫХ АГЕНТСТВ УЗБЕКИСТАНА [Decree of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan On Establishing the Public Foundation on Support and Development of Independent Mass Media and News Agencies of Uzbekistan,]” Lex.uz, November 16, 2005, https://web.archive.org/web/20190504222402/http://www.lex.uz:80/docs/11…
  • 2. Law RU, Осредствахмассовойинформации, [On the Mass Media] No. 541-I, adopted December 26, 1997, as amended on January 15, 2007, SZRU (2007) No. 3, item 20, at art. 4.
  • 3. Resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers RU, О Дальнейшем Совершенствовании Порядка Государственной регистрации средств массовой информации в Республике Узбекистан, [On the Further Development of the Procedure for State Registration of the Mass Media in the Republic of Uzbekistan] No. 214, October 11, 2006, in SP RU (2007) No. 14, item 141, at art. 8.
  • 4. “ОАВ соҳасида давлат хизматлари кўрсатишнинг маъмурий регламенти тасдиқланди [The administrative regulations for the provision of public services in the field of mass media have been approved,]” Kun.uz, December 21, 2019, https://kun.uz/news/2019/12/21/oav-sohasida-davlat-xizmatlari-korsatish…
  • 5. “ЎЗБЕКИСТОН РЕСПУБЛИКАСИ ВАЗИРЛАР МАҲКАМАСИНИНГ ҚАРОРИ ОММАВИЙ АХБОРОТ ВА КОММУНИКАЦИЯЛАР СОҲАСИДА ДАВЛАТ ХИЗМАТЛАРИ КЎРСАТИШНИНГ АЙРИМ МАЪМУРИЙ РЕГЛАМЕНТЛАРИНИ ТАСДИҚЛАШ ТЎҒРИСИДА [The Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Uzbekistan Resolution on Approval of Some Administrative Regulations of Government Services in the Sphere of Media and Communications,]” lex.uz, https://lex.uz/docs/4655428
  • 6. ‘Свобода слова – фундаментальная основа демократических выборов [Freedom of Speech is The Fundamental Foundation of Democratic Elections,]” National News Agency of Uzbekistan, December 16, 2019, https://uza.uz/ru/society/svoboda-slova-fundamentalnaya-osnova-demokrat…
  • 7. IREX,“Media Sustainability Index 2019: Uzbekistan,” https://www.irex.org/sites/default/files/pdf/media-sustainability-index…
B7 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the online information landscape lack diversity? 2.002 4.004

Score Change: The score improved from 1 to 2 due to the increased availability of and engagement with relatively uncensored news and opinions through social media platforms and messaging applications.

Though the online media environment in Uzbekistan has remained severely restricted since President Mirziyoyev took office, there is evidence that some registered media outlets have begun to cover more politically and socially sensitive topics.1 For example, Kun.uz, the fourth most popular website in the country as of May 2020,2 has criticized the government for failing to stop forced labor in the cotton industry.3 Relative to previous years, more internet users are reading and engaging with news from independent news websites. Historically, these websites had been subject to arbitrary closure or retroactive deregistration.4

Many people access blocked websites or messaging apps like Viber or WhatsApp through proxies or VPNs.5

Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and the Russian social networks Odnoklassniki and Vkontakte are available and widely used. According to a survey conducted by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, 87 percent of internet users in Uzbekistan get their news from social networks.6 However, trust in social networks as news sources is low (11 percent), especially compared to news websites (32 percent) and official, state-run websites (30 percent.) Telegram channels are a popular source of relatively unfiltered information (see B8) and cater to underserved audiences. For instance, IREX notes, “Zhenskiy Uzbekistan is a private channel on Telegram dedicated to feminism and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender affairs—topics so taboo that even most liberal and critical independent media outlets dare not tackle them.”7 Government officials have not taken steps to block Telegram, and many use the platform themselves.8

B8 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Do conditions impede users’ ability to mobilize, form communities, and campaign, particularly on political and social issues? 3.003 6.006

The government’s stringent policies regarding use of the internet and social media, by youth in particular, discourage online mobilization as a significant form of political engagement, as do technical restrictions on communications platforms and petition websites (see A3, B1). However, political activists and regime critics actively use social media to reach supporters in and outside of Uzbekistan. For example, there are social media pages for political movements like Erkin O’zbekiston (“Free Uzbekistan”)1 or Alga Karakalpakstan (which seeks independence for the autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan),2 which are led by exiles. That said, the mobilizing potential of social media is limited, in part due to restrictive laws governing freedom of assembly.

However, the internet has increasingly become a space for activism, if not mobilization. Facebook and Telegram users are able to follow daily discussions about political, economic, and social issues in groups like “Reforms in the Republic of Uzbekistan: Problems with no Solutions.”3 In some cases, online activism can lead to real-world change. For example, in June 2019, citizens, outraged over plans to bulldoze trees along the main boulevard in the city of Samarkand,4 launched a Change.org petition that successfully convinced the authorities not to proceed (even though Change.org is a blocked site).5 In October 2018, an image of farmers and local administrators being forced by a government official to stand in a ditch full of water made the rounds on social media,6 eventually leading the president to fire the responsible official.7 However, not all instances of online activism have been successful. While Facebook users were able to organize a call for the end to forced evictions as part of the redevelopment of Tashkent in the group “Tashkent – DEMOLITION,”8 their pleas fell on deaf ears.

Citizens continue to utilize the government’s “virtual office” initiative, to speak directly with government representatives, as well as Mening Fikrim (“My Opinion”), the government’s official petition platform.

C Violations of User Rights

Internet users continued to face legal harassment, extrajudicial violence, and cyberattacks in retaliation for their online expression during the coverage period. The government passed a data protection law and proposed data localization requirements.

C1 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Do the constitution or other laws fail to protect rights such as freedom of expression, access to information, and press freedom, including on the internet, and are they enforced by a judiciary that lacks independence? 0.000 6.006

Uzbekistan’s constitution protects the rights to freedom of expression and of mass media, and it prohibits censorship. Article 29 of the constitution guarantees the right to gather and disseminate information.1 However, in practice, these rights are not respected, as evidenced by the blocking websites critical of the government and the subjection of media workers to political persecution. Courts in Uzbekistan, not being independent, have largely failed to protect individuals, including journalists, against government retaliation for exercising their rights to freedom of expression. Courts also operate without transparency, depriving the public of access to legal decisions, although recent changes have clarified the media’s right to attend and report on legal proceedings.2Rampant corruption, particularly within law enforcement agencies, as well as weak legislative and judicial bodies, continue to have a deleterious impact on these rights, online and offline.

Media workers are nominally provided strong protections under the Law on the Protection of Professional Activity of Journalists. However, these protections are not fully respected in practice.3 During the coverage period, an amendment to the Law on Informatization was proposed that would grant bloggers the right to “conduct journalistic investigations,” among other things, although this proposal was stalled as of May 2020.4 Another proposal that would criminalize interfering in journalists’ work was floated by the AIMK, but this too had not yet been codified in law.5

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there laws that assign criminal penalties or civil liability for online activities? 1.001 4.004

The criminal code contains several provisions that have been used extensively to prosecute reporters and ordinary internet users, including prohibitions on threatening the constitutional order (Article 159); inciting ethnic, national, racial, or religious hatred (Article 156); producing and disseminating of materials that contain threats to public security and order (Article 244-1); slander (Article 139); insult (Article 140); and insult of the president (Article 158).1 These offenses are variously punishable by fines, community service, and, in all cases, imprisonment. Further prohibitions typically placed on both journalists who work online and ordinary internet users are based on vague information security rules.2

In March 2020,3 President Shavkat enacted amendments to Article 244.5 of the criminal code which penalize the dissemination of “false information” regarding the spread of infectious diseases or quarantine via mass media or the internet with up to three years of imprisonment.4

In January 2020, the AIMK, acting on the instructions of the president,5 drafted amendments that would decriminalize defamation and insult, replacing currently prescribed prison terms with penalties such as correction labor or fines. However, the proposed amendments also envision the introduction of explicit liability for online defamation and insult.6 In March, the government met with representatives from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to discuss the amendments,7 and in April, it set up a “civil chamber” under the president to study freedom of expression issues.8 In May, the government again announced its intention to move forward with these changes.9 As of May 2020, no changes had been adopted.

Meanwhile, amendments to the administrative and criminal codes that would impose harsh new sanctions for disseminating calls for mass demonstrations online were reportedly discussed in secret in December 2019.10 The criminal code also provides for up to eight years in prison for disseminating materials that threaten public security and order (under Article 244.1). The status of these amendments was unknown as of May 2020.

In 2016, amendments to the criminal code increased the penalty (under Article 244.1) for the dissemination through “mass media or telecommunications networks” of “information or materials” that threaten public security and order (including by containing “ideas of religious extremism, separatism, or fundamentalism”) to up to eight years imprisonment.11 Observers, including the OSCE, regarded this as a move to further suppress freedom of expression online.12

  • 1. “Criminal Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Art. 139 and 140,“ https://www.ctbto.org/fileadmin/user_upload/pdf/Legal_documents/nationa…
  • 2. Zhanna Kozhamberdiyeva, “Freedom of Expression on the Internet: A Case Study of Uzbekistan,” Review of Central and East European Law, January 2008, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/233562177_Freedom_of_Expressio…
  • 3. “ИНФОРМАЦИОННОЕ СООБЩЕНИЕ о третьем пленарном заседании Сената Олий Мажлиса Республики Узбекистан [Information Statement about the Third Session of the Senate of Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan,]” Senate of the Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan, March 24, 2020, www.senat.uz/ru/lists/view/1262
  • 4. “ЗАКОН РЕСПУБЛИКИ УЗБЕКИСТАН О ВНЕСЕНИИ ИЗМЕНЕНИЙ И ДОПОЛНЕНИЙ В УГОЛОВНЫЙ, УГОЛОВНО-ПРОЦЕССУАЛЬНЫЙ КОДЕКСЫ РЕСПУБЛИКИ УЗБЕКИСТАН И КОДЕКС РЕСПУБЛИКИ УЗБЕКИСТАН ОБ АДМИНИСТРАТИВНОЙ ОТВЕТСТВЕННОСТИ [On Amendments and Additions to the Criminal, Criminal Procedure Codes of the Republic of Uzbekistan and the Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan on Administrative Responsibility,]” Lex.uz, March 24, 2020, https://lex.uz/ru/docs/4774974
  • 5. “Опубликован законопроект о смягчении наказания за клевету и оскорбление [A bill to reduce the penalty for libel and insult published,]” Gazeta, January 15, 2020, https://www.gazeta.uz/ru/2020/01/15/slander-insult/
  • 6. Agency of Information and Mass Communications under the Administration of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, “ЎЗБЕКИСТОН РЕСПУБЛИКАСИНИНГ АЙРИМ ҚОНУН ҲУЖЖАТЛАРИГА ЎЗГАРТИРИШ ВА ҚЎШИМЧАЛАР КИРИТИШ ТЎҒРИСИДА [The Draft Law of the Republic of Uzbekistan on Amendments to the Legislation,]” Regulation.gov.uz, January, 15, 2020, https://regulation.gov.uz/ru/document/12478
  • 7. “OSCE Media Freedom Representative concludes the second Central Asia Judicial Dialogue in Samarkand,” OSCE, March 6, 2020, https://www.osce.org/representative-on-freedom-of-media/448045
  • 8. President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, “О создании Общественной палаты при Президенте Республики Узбекистан [On the creation of the Public Chamber under the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan,]” National News Agency of Uzbekistan, May 17, 2020, https://uza.uz/ru/documents/o-sozdanii-obshchestvennoy-palaty-pri-prezi…
  • 9. “Uzbekistan to liberalise electoral, media law,” Reuters, May 22, 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-uzbekistan-politics/uzbekistan-to-li…
  • 10. "В Узбекистане предусматривают до 10 лет тюрьмы за призывы к несанкционированным митингам [Uzbekistan provides for up to 10 years in prison for calling for unauthorized rallies,]" Radio Ozodlik, December, 17, 2019, https://rus.ozodlik.org/a/30330720.html?withmediaplayer=1&fbclid=IwAR03…
  • 11. Mushfig Bayram, "Uzbekistan: Harshened Criminal And Administrative Code punishments," Forum 18, June 15, 2016, http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2189
  • 12. OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, "Recent legislative amendments in Uzbekistan worrying, OSCE Representative says," April 29, 2016, http://www.osce.org/fom/237641
C3 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Are individuals penalized for online activities? 2.002 6.006

The government is known for its hostility toward its critics, including journalists who work online, human rights activists, and ordinary internet users.1 Numerous individuals have been arrested and convicted for their online activities.

Internet users in Uzbekistan faced penalties for online activities in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, in March 2020, a user was jailed for 30 days for allegedly falsely claiming on social media platforms that his neighbor had died of COVID-19.2 As of March 2020, the Ministry of Interior had investigated 33 social media accounts for “incorrectly interpreting the situation in the country” prior to the amendment of Article 244.5 of the criminal code (see C2), identifying 13 citizens who shared “false and baseless information” on social media platforms, 9 of whom received “preventive explanatory conversations,” while the remaining 4 were to be prosecuted “according to the current legislation.”3 The AIMK warned Telegram channel administrators to delete “false information” or face charges under Article 244.1 of the criminal code,4 and in at least one case, a Telegram user was fined for posting “false information.”5

In May 2020, a journalist in Fergana province was briefly jailed for allegedly violating quarantine regulations.6 However, observers suspect that he was really being punished for an online comment in which he claimed local authorities were forcing public servants to clean the streets of the city of Margilan ahead of a planned visit by President Mirziyoyev. The journalist was forced to apologize for spreading false information; local authorities shared a video of his apology on social media.7

In February 2020, YouTuber Jurabek Kimizov was arrested on a two-year-old fraud complaint after he criticized local officials in Andijan province, where he lives.8 Kimizov, who works as a driver, is known for his videos on social media platforms in which he highlights local political and social problems. His wife told Radio Ozodlik that he was being punished for his vlogging.

In late December 2019, blogger Abdufatto Nuritdinov, also known as Otabek Nuritdinov, was sentenced to 15 days of administrative detention for defaming and insulting local officials, in part through a series of Facebook posts from August and October 2019.9 The blogger frequently posts about cases of corruption.10

In October 2019, blogger Mavlonbek Abbasov was arrested, held without access to outside communication for five days, and then sentenced to twelve days of administrative detention for defamation and insult related to a series of Facebook posts (some of which have since been deleted) about the police.11 In the posts, Abbasov asked rhetorical questions such as, “Do we need police officers who break into our homes and disturb our peace?” and “Do you think the state cares about me?” When asked for comment, the Ministry of the Interior did not specify which of the posts were defamatory or insulting.

In September 2019, Andijan-based blogger Nodirbek Hojimatov was sentenced to 10 days of administrative detention for insulting two regional hokims (governors) after being tried without legal counsel.12 Hojimatov published a Facebook post (since deleted) in which he questioned a presidential decision to present the hokims with awards, noting that they are “famous for swearing [at] and assaulting” their subordinates.

Also in September 2019, blogger Nafosat Olloshukurova was arrested for live-streaming a protest march (in which a poet facing incitement and smuggling charges attempted to walk to Tashkent) and was sentenced to spend 10 days in administrative detention.13 She was also fired from her job as a teacher for her blogging. Ollashukurova then went on a hunger strike to object to the degrading and inhumane treatment she received while in custody. She was immediately placed in a psychiatric facility, deemed “a threat to society,” and medically treated against her will. She was held without access to outside communication for several weeks until her release on December 28, 2019. Ollashukurova later stated that she was threatened with further forced medical treatment after her release, prompting her to leave Uzbekistan.14

In June 2019, officials from the State Tax Committee confiscated blogger Aziz Ashurbayev’s mobile phone and changed his Instagram password so as to lock him out from his account, all because of suspicions that he was not paying his taxes. AIMK director Komil Allamjonov condemned the move, while the officials insisted that bloggers need to pay taxes on revenues earned through social media.15 The prosecutor general’s office investigated the incident,16 and the officials involved were later fired.17

  • 1. Human Rights Watch,“Until the Very End: Politically Motivated Imprisonment in Uzbekistan,” September 25, 2014, https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/09/25/until-very-end/politically-motiva…
  • 2. “В Узбекистане мужчину посадили на 30 суток за «распространение ложной информации о смерти от коронавируса» [In Uzbekistan, Man Sentenced to 30 Days For “Disseminating False Information About Death From Coronavirus,]” Ainews, March 30, 2020, https://ainews.kz/incidents/v-uzbekistane-muzhchinu-posadili-na-30-suto…
  • 3. Ministry of Interior Press Secretary, “На сегодняшний день рабочая группа выявила 33 аккаунта, неверно трактующих обстановку в стране [To Date, Working Group Identified 33 accounts That Misinterpreted Situation In The Country,]” Telegram, March, 17, 2020, https://telegra.ph/Na-segodnyashnij-den-rabochaya-gruppa-vyyavila-33-ak…
  • 4. “АОКА Telegram-канал эгаларига огоҳлантириш юбормоқда. Агентлик раҳбари изоҳ берди [AOKA is sending a warning to the owners of the Telegram channel. The head of the agency commented,]” Kun.uz, March 17, 2020, https://kun.uz/news/2020/03/17/aoka-telegram-kanal-egalariga-ogohlantir…
  • 5. “Жителя Термеза оштрафовали на 1,1 млн сумов за фейк в Telegram [Termez resident fined 1.1 million soums for fake Telegram,]” Spot.uz, March 24, 2020, https://www.spot.uz/ru/2020/03/24/fake/
  • 6. “Ўзбекистон: Фарғоналик блогер ўзи нега қамалган эди? [Uzbekistan: Why was the Fergana blogger imprisoned?” BBC News O’zbek, May 20, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/uzbek/uzbekistan-52860882
  • 7. https://www.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=1076161359432617&id=51101…
  • 8. Umidbek Bobomatov, “В Андижане по обвинению в мошенничестве арестован блогер, критиковавший главу района [Blogger who criticized a municipal official arrested for fraud in Andijan,]” Radio Ozodlik, March, 04, 2020, https://rus.ozodlik.org/a/30467644.html
  • 9. Andijan Regional Prosecutor’s Office, “Facebook” ҳамда ‘Telegram’ ижтимоий тармоқларида А.Нуритдиновнинг маъмурий қамоққа олинганлиги ҳақидаги ҳабарлар юзасидан баёнот [Prosecutor's office of Andijan region, “Announcements on administrative arrest on Facebook and Telegram social networks of A. Nuritdinov,]” Telegram, December, 31, 2019, https://t.me/andijonprokuraturasi/63
  • 10. “В Андижане на 15 суток арестовали блогера, освещавшего проблему хищения бюджетных средств [Blogger who covered the problem of embezzlement of budget funds was arrested in Andijan for 15 days,]” Radio Ozodlik, January 2, 2020, https://rus.ozodlik.org/a/30355779.html
  • 11. “Ўзбекистон: Блогер ИИВ ва ҳокимиятни танқид қилгани учун 12 суткага қамалдими? [Uzbekistan: Was the blogger jailed for 12 days for criticizing the Interior Ministry and the government?,]” BBC News O’Zbek, October 15, 2019, https://www.bbc.com/uzbek/uzbekistan-50061909
  • 12. Khurmat Babadajanov, “Молодой блогер, раскритиковавший вручение орденов хокимам-матершинникам, арестован на 10 суток [Young blogger, criticizing award ceremony of hokim-swearers, arrested for 10 days,]” Radio Ozodlik, September, 14, 2019, https://rus.ozodlik.org/a/30162733.html
  • 13. “Как блогера и активистку Нафосат Оллашукурову 'вытеснили' из Узбекистана [How blogger and activist Nafosat Ollashukurova was ‘ousted’ out of Uzbekistan,]” Asiaterra, January, 27, 2020, http://www.asiaterra.info/prava-cheloveka/kak-blogera-i-aktivistku-nafo…
  • 14. Nafosat Ollashukurova, Shabnam Ollashukurova, “Хурматли ватандошлар, мен уз юртимни тарк этиб кетишга мажбур булдим”, January, 19, 2019, https://www.facebook.com/shabnam.olloshkurova/posts/3560215760717957
  • 15. “Алламжонов заступился за блогера, у которого налоговики конфисковали телефон [Allamjonov stood up for a blogger from whom tax authorities confiscated the phone,]” Podrobno UZ, June, 14, 2019, https://podrobno.uz/cat/obchestvo/allamzhonov-zastupilsya-za-blogera-/?…
  • 16. “Генпрокуратура взяла на особый контроль дело о конфискации сотрудниками налоговой телефона блогера [The Prosecutor General’s Office took special control over the confiscation of blogger's phone by tax officers,]” Podrobno UZ, June, 14, 2019, https://podrobno.uz/cat/obchestvo/genprokuratura-vzyala-na-osobyy-kontr…
  • 17. “Узбекских налоговиков уволили за изъятие телефона у блогера” [in Russian], Fergana News, June 16, 2019, https://fergana.ru/news/108263/ Footnote 202 should read: Facebook post by Alisher Ilkhamov, January 5, 2020, https://www.facebook.com/alisher.ilkhamov/posts/10158216565734434
C4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government place restrictions on anonymous communication or encryption? 1.001 4.004

There is limited space for anonymous digital communication, and the government strictly regulates the use of encryption.1 Proxy servers and anonymizers are important tools for protecting privacy and accessing blocked content, although they require skills beyond what many ordinary users in Uzbekistan possess.

There are few options for posting anonymous comments online. Individuals are increasingly encouraged to register with their real names to participate in discussion forums such as the state-run Uforum.2 Individuals must also provide their internal passport information to buy a SIM card.3 In addition, as of September 2019, individuals must register their mobile devices’ international mobile equipment information (IMEI) codes with the state.4 Service providers must block unregistered devices.

Amendments introduced in August 2018 (and since adopted5), which crack down on illegal VoIP services and the unauthorized use of protected Wi-Fi hotspots, led to rumors that using VPNs was being criminalized.6 The MiTC vehemently denied the rumors, asserting that they stemmed from a misunderstanding of the amendments’ language.7 However, certain VPN services are apparently blocked (see B1).

  • 1. Resolution of the President RU “О mерахпоорганизациикриптографическойзащитыинформации в RеспубликеУзбекистан [On Organizational Measures for Cryptographic Protection of Information in the Republic of Uzbekistan,]” No. ПП-614, No 14, Item 140, at Art. 1., April 3, 2007, SZ RU, 2007.
  • 2. "Правилафорума [Terms of Use,]” UZ Forum, http://uforum.uz/misc.php?do=cfrules
  • 3. “Timeline of SIM Card Registration Laws,” Privacy International, June 11, 2019, https://privacyinternational.org/long-read/3018/timeline-sim-card-regis…
  • 4. “Регистрация мобильных устройств: что нужно знать [Mobile device registration: what you need to know,]” Gazeta.uz, September 18, 2019, https://www.gazeta.uz/ru/2019/09/18/imei/
  • 5. “РАЗДЕЛ ШЕСТОЙ ПРЕСТУПЛЕНИЯ ПРОТИВ ОБЩЕСТВЕННОЙ БЕЗОПАСНОСТИ И ОБЩЕСТВЕННОГО ПОРЯДКА [Section Six: Crimes Against Public Security and Public Order, Provision 278.7,]” Lex.uz, https://lex.uz/ru/docs/111457#171233; “КОДЕКС РЕСПУБЛИКИ УЗБЕКИСТАН ОБ АДМИНИСТРАТИВНОЙ ОТВЕТСТВЕННОСТИ РАЗДЕЛ ПЕРВЫЙ ОБЩИЕ ПОЛОЖЕНИЯ [Provision 155.2 of the Code of Administrative Responsibility,]” Lex.uz, https://lex.uz/ru/docs/97661
  • 6. Ministry for the Development of Information Technologies and Communications of the Republic of Uzbekistan, “ЗАКОН РЕСПУБЛИКИ УЗБЕКИСТАН О внесении изменения и дополнений в некоторые законодательные акты Республики Узбекистан [On amendments to the law On Communications,]” Regulation.gov.uz, https://regulation.gov.uz/ru/document/231
  • 7. "Мининфоком опроверг информацию о наказании за использование VPN [Mininfocom denied information about punishment for using VPN,]” Gazeta, August 15, 2018, https://www.gazeta.uz/ru/2018/08/15/vpn
C5 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does state surveillance of internet activities infringe on users’ right to privacy? 1.001 6.006

Government surveillance of ICTs is extensive. Although Article 27 of the constitution guarantees the privacy of “written communications and telephone conversations,” there is no data protection legislation in Uzbekistan.1 Article 27 also guarantees respect for human rights and the rule of law, though these rights are frequently violated during surveillance operations.

In March 2020, the upper chamber of parliament approved amendments to the Law on Guarantees for Legal Advocacy and Social Protection of Lawyers, the Law on Operational-Search Activities, and the Code of Criminal Procedure. The changes would expand law enforcement agencies’ ability to wiretap lawyers and enhance the surveillance powers of the National Guard, a body that has grown to prominence under President Mirziyoyev.2 The amendments were met by criticism from the local legal community3 and had not been enacted as of May 2020.

In July 2019, President Mirziyoyev enacted the Law on Personal Data,4 unifying several regulations concerning the collection and processing of personal data, including by ISPs and mobile service providers. The law enumerates a number of privacy rights but carves out several exceptions “in order to ensure state security” and does not apply to personal data obtained by law enforcement authorities.5

Police in Uzbekistan frequently confiscate computers, phones, and other internet-enabled devices when conducting arrests.6

Since 2006, the SGB has conducted electronic surveillance of the national telecommunications network by employing the Russia-designed System for Operational Investigative Measures (SORM), ostensibly to prevent terrorism and extremism.7

The Israeli branch of the American company Verint and the Israeli company NICE both supply Uzbekistan’s security services with monitoring centers, allowing them direct access to residents’ telephone calls and internet activity, according to the UK-based nongovernmental organization (NG) Privacy International. Privacy International reported that Verint has also carried out tests on behalf of the SGB to gain access to SSL-encrypted communications, such as those now offered by default by Gmail, Facebook, and other service providers, by replacing security certificates with false ones using technology supplied by the US company Netronome.8 In 2015, documents leaked from the Italy-based surveillance software company Hacking Team revealed that NICE was supplying Hacking Team’s Remote Control System (RCS) spyware to Uzbekistan.9 RCS can intercept user communications, remotely activate a phone’s microphone and camera, and access all content on a phone (including contacts and messages) without the user’s knowledge. Researchers from Kaspersky, a Russian-based cybersecurity firm, claimed that the security services have also used software from the German company FinFisher, which has exported spyware to a number of authoritarian countries around the world.10

In addition to purchasing spyware from foreign technology companies, the government is developing its own interception tools. Kaspersky identified one protocol for hacking into phones and computers called “Sharpa” in October 2018.11 The protocol was reportedly created by an entity linked to the SGB known as “Military Unit 02616.”

The government continues to work with Huawei on a Safe City project, which will feature networked CCTV surveillance in Tashkent, other major cities, and ultimately, the entire country.12 In June 2019, the government formally contracted several Chinese companies to implement the project in Tashkent.13 Uzbekistan’s ICT sector is heavily reliant on Huawei,14 raising fears that Chinese surveillance could extend to the country.

C6 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Are service providers and other technology companies required to aid the government in monitoring the communications of their users? 0.000 6.006

ISPs and mobile service providers must install SORM-compliant surveillance equipment on their networks in order to obtain an operating license.1 Telecommunications providers are prohibited by law from disclosing details on surveillance methods and face possible financial sanctions in addition to license revocation if they fail to design their networks to accommodate electronic interception.2

ISPs and mobile service providers are required to store user data for three months.3 Since 2004, operators of public internet access points are required to monitor their users and cooperate with state bodies. Under regulatory amendments introduced in 2014, operators of public access points must install surveillance cameras on their premises to “ensure [the] safety of visitors.” Additionally, they are required to retain a “registry of internet web resources” used by customers for three months.4

The law requires a prosecutor’s warrant for the interception of internet traffic by law enforcement bodies. However, in cases deemed urgent, the authorities may initiate surveillance and subsequently inform the prosecutor’s office within 24 hours.5

In early 2020, the MiTC announced plans to localize servers for companies like Facebook, Google, and Yandex in Uzbekistan,6 ostensibly to improve the quality of streaming and other services. Critics fear that data localization would give the government more control of user data.7 These plans had not yet been realized as of June 2020.

  • 1. Resolution of the President RU, “О мерахпоповышениюэффективностиорганизацииоперативно-розыскныхмероприятийнасетяхтелекоммуникацийРеспубликиУзбекистан [On Measures for Increasing the Effectiveness of Operational and Investigative Actions on the Telecommunications Networks of the Republic of Uzbekistan,]” No. ПП-513, November 21, 2006, at art. 5.8. Infra., Note 110. Also, tax and custom exemptions apply for import of the SORM equipment by domestic ISPs, see Tax Code of RU, Art. 208, 211, 230 Part 2, and 269.
  • 2. “ЎЗБЕКИСТОН РЕСПУБЛИКАСИНИНГ ҚОНУНИТЕЛЕКОММУНИКАЦИЯЛАР ТЎҒРИСИДА [Law of the Republic of Uzbekistan, On Telecommunications,]” Lex.uz, http://lex.uz/acts/33150
  • 3. “ПРИКАЗГЕНЕРАЛЬНОГО ДИРЕКТОРА УЗБЕКСКОГО АГЕНТСТВА СВЯЗИ И ИНФОРМАТИЗАЦИИ ОБ УТВЕРЖДЕНИИ ПОЛОЖЕНИЯ О ПОРЯДКЕ ПРЕДОСТАВЛЕНИЯ ДОСТУПА К СЕТИ ИНТЕРНЕТ В ОБЩЕСТВЕННЫХ ПУНКТАХ ПОЛЬЗОВАНИЯ [Order - Director General Of The Uzbek Communication And Information Agency: On Approval Of The Regulation On The Procedure Of Giving Internet Access To Public Use Items,]” lex.uz, July 30, 2004, http://www.lex.uz/acts/771468
  • 4. See Resolution of the SCCITT RU, "О внесенииизменений и дополнений в Положение о порядкепредоставлениядоступа к сетиИнтернет в общественныхпунктахпользования [On making amendments and additions to the Regulations on the procedure for providing access to the Internet in the public areas of use,]" , No. 79-мх, SZRU (2014) NO. 13, item 150. Lex.uz, March 28, 2014, https://lex.uz/docs/2362804
  • 5. Resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers, "On the National Security Service of the Republic of Uzbekistan," No. 278, at Part IV (3), November 2, 1991.
  • 6. “Задачи масштабные и актуальные! [Large-scale tasks and urgent,]” Ministry of Information Technologies and Communications, January, 20, 2020, http://mitc.uz/ru/news/1198
  • 7. “Tashkent Forcing Internet Firms To Locate Uzbek User Data Within Uzbekistan,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Free Liberty, February 21, 2020, https://www.rferl.org/a/internet-firms-user-data-within-uzbekistan/3044…
C7 1.00-5.00 pts0-5 pts
Are individuals subject to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or any other actor in retribution for their online activities? 2.002 5.005

Activists, journalists, and ordinary internet users continued to face extralegal intimidation and violence in retribution for their online activities.

In February 2020, blogger Aleksey Garshin was threatened on WhatsApp account by an unknown individual for posting a YouTube video critical of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev.1 Other bloggers have received anonymous threats for social media posts critical of the government.2

In January 2020, blogger Rada Abdullayeva, whose Facebook posts occasionally criticize the government, stated that her daughter had been detained for two hours in Tashkent’s airport while en route to Moscow by customs officers who strip-searched her repeatedly. Abdullayeva believes this incident was meant to silence her.3

In December 2019, Tashkent-based blogger Amir Sharifullin was kidnapped by two unknown people in balaclavas, stripped, beaten, and forced to apologize on video for his posts on Facebook.4 Sharifullin claims he was assaulted in retaliation for his negative comments about controversial demolitions of buildings in Tashkent. His mother, Farida Sharifullina, administers the popular Facebook group “Tashkent – DEMOLITION,” which serves as a hub of discontent generated by the demolitions. The prosecutor general’s office identified the suspected perpetrators but cast blame on Sharifullin, claiming he was involved in the trade of illicit drugs.5 One perpetrator was later given an administrative penalty, while the other walked free, raising questions about possible state involvement in Sharifullin’s abduction.6

In November 2019, journalist Davlatnazar Ruzmetov, also known under his alias Davlat Nazar, was killed in a hit-and-run incident in Khorezm province.7 Ruzmetov had been a contributor to Radio Ozodlik, where he reported on forced labor in the cotton industry. He actively commented on political and social affairs on Facebook. The authorities denied any foul play in Ruzmetov’s death,8 but human rights defenders say he had been under state surveillance. The man who struck and killed Ruzmetov was released after just three months of detention, prompting speculation that the killing was politically motivated.9

LGBT+ individuals who are active online brave hate speech, intimidation, and offline violence. In September 2019, a 25-year-old resident of Tashkent was murdered days after coming out as gay in an Instagram post.10 In August 2019, exiled LGBT+ activist Shohrukh Salimov asked President Mirziyoyev to decriminalize homosexuality in a video message; his parents, who still live in Uzbekistan, were subsequently harassed the police.11

In June 2019, photojournalist Timur Karpov, who has reported on forced labor and other sensitive issues, was officially denied a passport, restricting his movements to within Uzbekistan.12

C8 1.00-3.00 pts0-3 pts
Are websites, governmental and private entities, service providers, or individual users subject to widespread hacking and other forms of cyberattack? 1.001 3.003

Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 due to a 2019 phishing campaign targeting human rights defenders.

Between May and September 2019, activists and journalists in Uzbekistan were beset by a wave of sophisticated phishing attempts, according to Amnesty International. Using fake Google and Mail.ru emails, the attackers sought to break into the accounts of at least 170 targets in and outside of the country.1 In addition, the cyber-security company eQualit.ie reported that three websites it protects—Centre1, Eltuz, and Fergana News—sustained distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks in 2018 and 2019.2 eQualit.ie could not establish that the government of Uzbekistan was behind these incidents.

In the past, human rights defenders and online journalists have reported attempts to compromise their online accounts. For example, Dmitry Tikhonov, an Uzbek human rights defender who had worked on a project documenting forced labor during the annual cotton harvest, found that private information from his email account and personal Google Drive had been published online. Authorities subsequently initiated administrative proceedings against Tikhonov based on the leaked information, forcing him to flee the country in early 2016.3

On Uzbekistan

See all data, scores & information on this country or territory.

See More
  • Global Freedom Score

    10 100 not free
  • Internet Freedom Score

    27 100 not free
  • Freedom in the World Status

    Not Free
  • Networks Restricted

    Yes
  • Websites Blocked

    Yes
  • Pro-government Commentators

    Yes
  • Users Arrested

    Yes