Uzbekistan

Not Free
27
100
A Obstacles to Access 9 25
B Limits on Content 11 35
C Violations of User Rights 7 40
Last Year's Score & Status
28 100 Not Free
Scores are based on a scale of 0 (least free) to 100 (most free). See the research methodology and report acknowledgements.

header1 Overview

Internet freedom in Uzbekistan declined during the coverage period because the government blocked widely used social media platforms and messaging applications for violating data localization requirements, which were introduced via April 2021 amendments to the Law on Personal Data. Additionally, the government sought to control the media narrative around the Russian military’s invasion of Ukraine, warning journalists about their coverage. The government continued to impose multiyear prison sentences on bloggers, activists, and critics of the government during the coverage period. For the first time, the courts enforced March 2021 amendments to the criminal code that outlaw insults against the president. More positively, internet prices relative to income continued to decrease, according to some sources.

While reforms adopted since President Shavkat Mirziyoyev took office in 2016 have led to improvements on some issues, Uzbekistan remains an authoritarian state with few signs of democratization. No opposition parties operate legally. The legislature and judiciary effectively serve as instruments of the executive branch, which initiates reforms by decree, and the media are still tightly controlled by the authorities. Reports of torture and other ill-treatment persist, although highly publicized cases of abuse have resulted in dismissals and prosecutions for some officials, and small-scale corruption has been meaningfully reduced.

header2 Key Developments, June 1, 2021 - May 31, 2022

  • The State Inspectorate for Control in the Sphere of Informatization and Telecommunications in Uzbekistan (Uzkomnazorat) ordered the blocking of some social media platforms and messaging applications for failing to store Uzbek users’ data in-country, which is required under the amended Law on Personal Data. Twitter, TikTok, and VKontakte were blocked for almost the entire coverage period; Facebook, Telegram, YouTube, and other platforms were briefly restricted in November 2021 (see A3, B1, and C6).
  • The government advised journalists and bloggers to remain “neutral” in their coverage of the Russian military’s invasion of Ukraine (see B2, B4, and B5).
  • In January 2022, religious blogger Fozilhoja Arifhojayev, who regularly criticized religious figures, received a seven-and-a-half-year prison sentence for possessing of “materials threatening public safety and public order” on his mobile phone after he was detained at a local market (see C3).
  • In February 2022, a court in Xorazm Province sentenced blogger Sobirjon Bananiyazov to three years in prison for insulting President Mirziyoyev. Bananiyazov's sentence is the first that has been issued under March 2021 amendments to the criminal code that criminalized such speech (see C3).

A Obstacles to Access

A1 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Do infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet or the speed and quality of internet connections? 4.004 6.006

Internet penetration rates rose in Uzbekistan during the coverage period. Internet access is still based primarily on asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL) technology. According to Economist Impact’s Inclusive Internet Index 2022, 93.6 percent of households have internet access.1 The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) reports an overall internet penetration rate of 71.1 percent as of 2020.2 In 2021, the country’s fixed-line internet subscription rate was 20 percent, while its mobile broadband penetration rate was 99.8 percent.3

Internet connection speeds remain relatively slow. Subscribers experience poor connection quality and frequent disconnections. According to Ookla’s Speedtest Global Index, as of May 2022, the median fixed-line broadband download speed was 40.2 Megabits per second (Mbps), while the median mobile broadband download speed was 13.8 Mbps.4 Uztelecom, the state-run telecommunications monopoly, upgraded the bandwidth of Uzbekistan’s international internet channels to 1.2 Terabits per second (Tbps) in 2019.5 However, users regularly experience slower speeds than reported.

Mobile service providers deliver second-generation (2G), 3G, and 4G services, with most of the population covered by 2G (99 percent), 3G (90 percent), and 4G (65.9 percent) networks. 6 However, 4G is only available in large towns, which account for 43 percent of the population.7 Two state-owned mobile service providers, Ucell and UzMobile, began testing 5G services in September 2019,8 but no updates on the tests were reported by the end of the coverage period.

Uztelecom and several mobile service providers offer public Wi-Fi hotspots in limited locations. In February 2018, President Mirziyoyev signed a decree that introduced tax relief and advertisement rights for businesses investing in Wi-Fi hotspots.9 In December 2018, SOLA, a private company working in partnership with state authorities, reported that it set up 1,200 hotspots in Tashkent and outlined plans to launch additional hotspots across the country.10 However, in December 2019, SOLA only had hotspots at 270 locations in Tashkent.11 In addition, the State Committee for Tourism Development announced that only 1,925 public Wi-Fi hotspots had been installed in 2019.12

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? 1.001 3.003

The cost of internet access relative to household income continues to decrease in Uzbekistan. However, there are significant geographic and gender divides.

In 2021, the ITU reported that a 5 gigabyte (GB) fixed-line broadband connection cost 2.1 percent of gross national income (GNI) per capita, while a 2 GB mobile broadband subscription cost 1.1 percent of GNI per capita.1 According to the World Bank, Uzbekistan’s GNI per capita was $1,740 in 2020.2

In November 2019, the government began to obligate consumers to pay a fee to register their mobile devices’ international mobile equipment identity (IMEI) codes (see C4), introducing another cost to getting online. In December 2020, the government changed the IMEI registration procedure, obliging retail sellers to take responsibility for registering IMEI devices.3

During the COVID-19 pandemic, mobile service provider Beeline allowed customers to access certain online resources without using up their prepaid data allowances,4 as did state-owned mobile service providers Ucell, UMS, and UzMobile.5

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.6 Furthermore, the information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure depends on a stable electricity supply, which is lacking in some rural areas.7

Residential areas outside Tashkent still have far fewer high-speed FTTB connections, as shown by national internet service providers’ (ISPs) coverage maps.8 In April 2020, Mirziyoyev issued a decree stating that all settlements would have high-speed internet by 2021,9 which had not come into fruition at the end of the coverage period.

According to Economist Impact’s Inclusive Internet Index 2022, men access the internet at a higher rate than women, with a 13.3 percent difference between their respective internet penetration rates.10

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 continues to exercise significant control over ICT infrastructure. After the coverage period, the government restricted internet access in response to protests. During the coverage period, it blocked social media platforms.

In June and July 2022, after the coverage period, the government restricted mobile and fixed-line internet access during protests in Karakalpakstan.1 The protests, which began in Nukus, concerned a constitutional change that would prevent the autonomous region from seceding from Uzbekistan. On June 26, the government began limiting mobile internet access. Authorities later restricted fixed-line access, which persisted into late July.2 While internet access was disrupted, the authorities violently attacked protesters. Although officials claimed that 18 people died as a result of the crackdown, rights groups estimated that over 100 people were killed or went missing after law enforcement officers used live ammunition and deployed grenade launchers against protesters.3

In July 2021, Uzkomnazorat restricted access to Skype, Twitter, TikTok, VKontakte, and WeChat for violating new amendments to the personal data law (see B1 and C6).4 On November 3, 2021, additional social media platforms and messaging applications including Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Odnoklassniki, Telegram, and YouTube were blocked, though access was restored on the same day (see B1). In August 2022, after the coverage period, the Information and Mass Media Agency announced that Twitter, VKontakte, and WeChat were made available and the government was in ongoing discussions with TikTok about unblocking the application.5

The Open Observatory on Network Interference (OONI) reported that Signal, a popular encrypted and open-source messaging application, was blocked in Uzbekistan between April and September 2021 (see B1).6

In June 2020, users experienced issues accessing Facebook, though the government denied imposing restrictions to the platforms (see B1).7

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 restrict internet access and engage in surveillance. Uztelecom also functions as an upstream ISP, selling 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 had planned to permit private ISPs to establish their own connections to the international internet in 2020.8 This goal had not been realized by June 2022.9

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.10 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.11

The authorities also have ordered mobile service providers to halt internet and text message services around educational institutions to prevent cheating during university entrance exams held every August.12

Certain services are sometimes unavailable via fixed-line or mobile internet connections.13 The web browser Opera has been persistently blocked,14 although Uztelecom insists that there are “no restrictions on equipment to which the company’s specialists have access.”15

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 is the only fixed-line broadband provider that is allowed to connect to the international internet (see A3). 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 must possess 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 Ministry for Development of Information Technologies and Communications (MiTC) regulates telecommunications services related to the internet, while Uzkomnazorat monitors compliance with ICT-related legislation. The MiTC 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. 18 ISPs and 8 private companies were authorized to provide registry services in the “.uz” domain zone as of May 2021.1

In November 2018, the president signed a decree reorganizing the country’s internet governance apparatus, creating Uzkomanazorat to oversee compliance with ICT-related legislation; the Technical Assistance Center 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).2

  • 1Computerization and Information Technologies Developing Center, "РЕГИСТРАТОРЫ [Administrators],” http://cctld.uz/reg/.
  • 2"О мерах по совершенствованию системы контроля за внедрением информационных технологий и коммуникаций, организации их защиты [On measures to improve the control system for the implementation of information technologies and communications, the organization of their protection],” National News Agency of Uzbekistan, November 22, 2018, http://uza.uz/ru/documents/o-merakh-po-sovershenstvovaniyu-sistemy-kont….

B Limits on Content

B1 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does the state block or filter, or compel service providers to block or filter, internet content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards? 2.002 6.006

Score Change: The score declined from 3 to 2 to reflect the blocking of social media platforms and messaging applications throughout the coverage period.

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. During the coverage period, the government blocked access to major social media platforms and messaging applications.

In November 2021, Uzkomnazorat restricted access to Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Odnoklassniki, Telegram, and YouTube for failing to store data on local servers, which breached the April 2021 Law on Personal Data (see A3 and C6).1 Later that day, the president fired Golubsher Ziyayev, the head of Uzkomnazorat, and reinstated access to these networks. This move followed Uzkomnazorat’s July 2021 blocking of Twitter, TikTok, VK, Skype, and WeChat for the same reasons.2 The government restored access to Twitter, Vkontakte, Skype, and WeChat in August 2022, after the coverage period, but TikTok remained blocked as of that month.3

In a study conducted from April to September 2021, OONI found signs that access to the Signal app was blocked in Uzbekistan (See A3).4

Between June and August 2020, users had trouble accessing Meta products.5 After conducting an OONI probe, online news site AsiaTerra reported that Facebook and Facebook Messenger were blocked for Sharq Telecom users, allegedly at the behest of the government.6 The government repeatedly denied playing a role in blocking the platforms and encouraged users to voice their complaints to ISPs.7 In August 2020, UZ Report, a news site, also noted that users had issues accessing Instagram.8

In July 2020, the MiTC blocked the satirical website Durakchi (“Fool”),9 run by journalist Vasily Markov, because it allegedly violated Resolution No. 707 (see B3).10

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.11 Shortly thereafter, the Agency for Information and Mass Communications (AIMK), which serves as a media regulator, announced that the websites were not, in fact, blocked.12 Commentators speculated that the decision to unblock these websites was related to the December 2019 parliamentary elections, which attracted global attention.13

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.14 According to a user who had complained about the blocks, these websites were initially restricted because they allegedly hosted extremist or pornographic content.15

In September 2019, users complained that several virtual private network (VPN) services, including CyberGhost VPN, Express VPN, and NordVPN, were blocked by Uztelecom.16 Similarly, the Opera web browser reportedly remained blocked (see A3) as of October 2021 because it features a built-in proxy service.17 These services allow users to access web resources that remain censored in Uzbekistan. Meanwhile, Uztelecom provides its own VPN.18

In May 2019, Komil Allamjonov, a former AIMK director, announced in a social media post that access to certain online media outlets and human rights organizations would be restored,19 following a statement from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).20 The websites of many independent online media outlets had been largely inaccessible since 2005,21 after a violent government crackdown on peaceful antigovernment protests in Andijan.22 Access was restored to a variety of international and domestic news sites, including Voice of America (VoA), Amerika Ovozi (VoA’s Uzbek service), the Uzbek service of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the English-language service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Deutsche Welle, AsiaTerra, Eurasianet, Fergana News, UzMetronom, and Centre1.23 Additionally, the websites of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch (HRW), 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.24

Other websites hosting political, social, and religious content, including the Uzbek news service Eltuz,25 the religious freedom organization Forum 18,26 RFE/RL’s Uzbek-language service (Radio Ozodlik), the Open Society Foundations, and public opinion platforms Avaaz and Change.org,27 remained inaccessible during the coverage period. In May 2019, Allamjonov explained the continued blocking of the RFE/RL websites by pointing to their alleged neglect for “ethical principles.”28 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,” and accusing RFE/RL of working with a network of fake accounts on social media to smear him.29

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, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards? 1.001 4.004

There is extensive nontechnical censorship of online content in Uzbekistan, including amongst the country’s most popular news sites, although it is not always widely reported.

In April 2022, Anora Sadikova, editor in chief of online media outlet Uzbek Rost24, was threatened and eventually forced to remove a report on a corruption scandal involving Jahangir Usmanov; Usmanov was mentioned in the Pandora Papers, an investigation that revealed the improper financial behavior and connections of rich and powerful actors around the world.1 Sadikova later published a video detailing the investigation on her Facebook page.2

After the Russian military invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Tashkent issued directives to media outlets requesting that they cover the invasion in a “neutral” fashion (see B4 and B5). In some cases, outlets deleted articles covering the conflict. Umid Shermuhammedov, a founder of online outlet Kun.uz, deleted a Facebook post detailing the attempts of the State Security Service (DXX) to summon him and other Kun.uz correspondents about the outlet’s coverage.3

In September 2021, a representative from the Prosecutor’s Office threatened Feruza Najmiddinova, a journalist working for Qalampir.uz, and her crew if they did not remove a video recording of business owners complaining about the government’s illegal demolition of various buildings from their website (see C7).4

In June 2021, Kun.uz was ordered to delete seven articles discussing issues related to the practice of Islam, including tips for fasting during Ramadan and a news story about the New Zealand Police creating a police uniform that includes a hijab. Under the code of administrative offenses, the website was fined 12.5 million Uzbek soms ($1,155) for “illegal dissemination of religious materials.”5

Also in June 2021, Azon.uz, an online outlet that covers Islamic issues, was ordered to delete 12 posts from its website referring to Chad, Syria, Israel and other countries under the pretext that they might impact Tashkent’s foreign relations. The site was also fined 12.5 million soms ($1,155) for “illegal dissemination of religious materials."6

In October 2020, Gazeta.uz deleted a report on the uncompetitive election for the chair of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Karakalpakstan, which was won by Murat Kallibekovich Kamalov.7

At the beginning of June 2020, eight online outlets, including Kun.uz and Daryo.uz, deleted articles detailing how residents of Sokh, a Tajik-majority exclave surrounded by Kyrgyzstan, were angered by Fergana Province governor Shukhrat Ganiev. In an interview with the BBC, the editor of Daryo.uz claimed the removal was “as always, a technical glitch,” while local media outlets alluded to receiving calls from law enforcement officials.8

In the wake of the collapse of a dam near the town of Sardoba in May 2020, officials pressured ordinary users and journalists who work online to delete footage and commentary related to the collapse. In one case, a recording of two journalists criticizing state media coverage of the incident was scrubbed from the internet.9

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.10 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 reassess the criteria for the removal of immoral content.11

Between January 2021 and December 2021, Facebook did not remove any content based on requests from the government.12 The government submitted two content removal requests to Twitter, which complied with both.13 The government submitted one copyright-related removal request to Google, which did not comply.14

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 April 2021, the government amended the Law on Personal Data, which now requires website owners to store their data in Uzbekistan and ensure that their servers are registered with Uzkomnazorat (see C6). The law gives the regulator the authority to block websites that that do not comply with the amendments, which it employed in July and November 2021 (see A3 and B1).1

In December 2020, the government amended Resolution No. 707 on “measures to improve information security in the global information network,” which was originally passed in 2018. The new amendment gives AIMK’s Center of Mass Communications the authority to order bloggers, website owners, social media companies, and messaging applications to remove “prohibited” content within 24 hours. If the prohibited content—which can include comments on social media posts—is not removed, the Center of Mass Communications can take the website owner or company to court.2

In September 2019, President 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.”3 Both bodies publish this information on their websites,4 but, according to 2020 reporting from RFE/RL, it is outdated.5

In September 2018, the government introduced guidelines on blocking websites. These guidelines marked the government’s first attempt to legitimize blocking, a practice it had long engaged in informally. According to the guidelines, the Center for Mass Communications now tracks the publication of illegal information online, 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 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

Amendments from 2014 to the Law on Informatization 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

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 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 or are forced to remove content (see B2).

A June 2022 investigation in the Diplomat outlined DXX’s pervasive role in fostering self-censorship. Journalists and bloggers detailed incidents where they were propositioned with bribes, were threatened, or were forced to delete content. In one instance, a Kun.uz journalist left his job after his editor prohibited him from covering a construction project that involved a deputy minister’s brother. In another case, a journalist reported moving to Tashkent after facing police surveillance in his hometown of Samarkand.1

The Diplomat also noted that the January 2022 protests in Kazakhstan and the Russian military’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 led to an increase in self-censorship.2 At the outset of invasion of Ukraine, the DXX warned bloggers and journalists to cover the events in a “very neutral” manner. Some journalists were summoned by the DXX because of their coverage (see B2).3

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.4

In recent years, officials at varying levels of government have also relied on other tactics to foster self-censorship, including "informal" conversations, 5 threats of prosecution, and, in some cases, physical threats. 6

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 Mirziyoyev.

After the Russian military invaded Ukraine, Tashkent declared its neutral position. The DXX summoned a number of journalists, including journalists from Kun.uz,1 instructing them to report events “neutrally” (see B4).2

In November 2020, the AIMK disseminated a statement detailing the warnings it had issued to media organizations, online news outlets, and social media channels to demand they abstain from the “publication of false information.”3 The AIMK issued complaints to a number of media companies concerning the incitement of “interfaith hatred,” and delivered specific complaints to Effect.uz and Hordiq.uz about the “dissemination of pornography and violence.” Likewise, it issued complaints to Nova 24 about “abuse” and to Daryo.uz, Podrobno.uz, and Repost.uz for raising “doubts about coronavirus infection statistics.” In December 2020, just a week after the initial statement, AIMK head Asadjok Khodaev walked back the statement, claiming that media organizations are not to blame for the dissemination of “false information.”4

The government sought to tightly control the narrative around the COVID-19 outbreak by using state-run outlets to amplify positive stories and forbidding doctors to speak to independent journalists, among other tactics.5 Independent news outlets and administrators of prominent Telegram channels were additionally warned not to share “fake news” related to the pandemic under penalty of prosecution.

The Union of Youth of Uzbekistan (OYI), 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, OYI members have been encouraged to create five Facebook profiles per person.6 According to researchers at Oxford University, progovernment commentators are also active on Twitter.7 In April 2020, the IIV proposed the creation of a group of bloggers comprised of OYI members, students of the Tashkent University of Information Technologies, and volunteer youth who would counter negative opinions on social media.8

  • 1“Kun.uz строго соблюдает национальное законодательство и объективность при освещении событий в Украине” [“Kun.uz strictly observes national legislation and objectivity when covering events in Ukraine”] Kun UZ, March 6, 2022, available at: https://kun.uz/ru/news/2022/03/06/obektivnost-i-aktualnost-kak-v-kunuz-….
  • 2“В Узбекистане журналистов вызывают вспецслужбы за «неправильное освещение»войны в Украине” [“In Uzbekistan, journalists are summoned by special services for "incorrect coverage" of the war in Ukraine”], Radio Azattyq, March 6, 2022, available at: https://rus.azattyq.org/a/31738517.html.
  • 3“Асаджон Ходжаев: «СМИ не виноваты в распространении необъективной информации»” [“Asadjon Khodjaev: ‘The media are not to blame for the dissemination of biased information’],” KUN UZ, December 3, 2020, https://kun.uz/ru/news/2020/12/03/asadjon-xodjayev-smi-ne-vinovaty-v-ra….
  • 4“Асаджон Ходжаев: «СМИ не виноваты в распространении необъективной информации»” [“Asadjon Khodjaev: ‘The media are not to blame for the dissemination of biased information’],” KUN UZ, December 3, 2020, https://kun.uz/ru/news/2020/12/03/asadjon-xodjayev-smi-ne-vinovaty-v-ra….
  • 5“Uzbekistan’s coronavirus information lockdown prompts questions,” Eurasianet, April 29, 2020, https://eurasianet.org/uzbekistans-coronavirus-information-lockdown-pro….
  • 6Rafael Sattorov, “Фабрика троллей Узбекистана: кто стоит за новым инструментом управления массами [Uzbekistan Troll Factory: who is behind the new mass management tool].” Hook.report, September 28, 2018, https://hook.report/2018/09/arrrr-vokrug-trolli/.
  • 7Samantha Bradshaw and Philip Howard, “The Global Disinformation Order 2019: Global Inventory of Organised Social Media Manipulation,” Computational Propaganda Research Project: University of Oxford, 2019, https://comprop.oii.ox.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/93/2019/09/CyberT….
  • 8“ПОСТАНОВЛЕНИЕ ПРЕЗИДЕНТА РЕСПУБЛИКИ УЗБЕКИСТАН Вояга етмаганлар ва ёшлар ўртасида ҳуқуқбузарликлар профилактикаси тизимини янада такомиллаштириш бўйича чора-тадбирлар тўғрисида ID-16692 [Presidential. President of the Republic of Uzbekistan On measures to further improve the system of prevention of juvenile delinquency and juvenile delinquency ID-16692].” regulation.gov.uz, https://regulation.gov.uz/ru/document/16692.
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 remarks made by President Mirziyoyev in June 2021, there were 1,893 mass media outlets, including 638 online outlets, in Uzbekistan.6 Journalists who work online are subject to extensive regulation (see B3).7

  • 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…
  • 2Law 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.
  • 3Resolution 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.
  • 6President Mirziyoyev, “Работникам печати и средств массовой информации” [“To Press and Media Workers ”] Narodnoe Slovo, June 26, 2021, available at: https://xs.uz/ru/post/rabotnikam-pechati-i-sredstv-massovoj-informatsii….
  • 7IREX,“Media Sustainability Index 2019: Uzbekistan,” 2019, 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 and reliability? 2.002 4.004

Though the online media environment in Uzbekistan has remained severely restricted under President Mirziyoyev, 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 its failure 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 sites. Historically, these websites had been subject to arbitrary closure or retroactive deregistration.4

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

According to a 2019 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 sites (32 percent) and official, state-run websites (30 percent). Telegram channels are a popular source of relatively unfiltered information 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 Many government officials use Telegram 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 and 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. While the mobilizing potential of social media remains limited, in part due to restrictive laws governing freedom of assembly, the internet has increasingly become a space for activism.

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. In October 2020, a local court ordered a halt to the construction of high-rise buildings in a historical section of Tashkent; the plaintiffs in the case specifically thanked the Facebook pages and AsiaTerra for helping raise awareness on this issue.4 In February 2021, the mayor of Tashkent promised not to cut down any trees in a central park5 after residents took to Facebook to campaign for its preservation.6 In June 2019, citizens, outraged over plans to bulldoze trees along Samarkand’s main boulevard,7 launched a Change.org petition that successfully convinced the authorities not to proceed (even though Change.org is a blocked site).8

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

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 expression and mass-media rights and additionally 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 blocking of 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 the 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.2 Rampant 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

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there laws that assign criminal penalties or civil liability for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards? 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 imprisonment. Further prohibitions typically placed on both journalists who work online and ordinary internet users are based on vague information security rules.2

In late 2020 and early 2021, the government enacted amendments to the administrative and criminal codes that enforce harsh penalties for online speech, including up to five years’ imprisonment for insulting the president. In December 2020, amendments to both codes introduced fines and prison time for a range of offenses. Publishing information that contains allegations deemed false or threatens public order or security is now punishable with two years’ imprisonment in ordinary cases. Violators can face up to three years’ imprisonment in cases where the offense is “repeated,” “causes major damage,” occurs “during mass events or in case of emergency,” inflicts “especially large damage,” or results “in other grave consequences.” Violators can also face up to three years’ imprisonment if the offense is committed by “an organized group or in its interests.”3

The March 2021 amendments to the administrative and criminal codes stipulate that insulting or slandering the president online or in the press is punishable with up to five years’ imprisonment. 4 Additionally, “public calls for riots and violence against citizens” are punishable by five years' imprisonment, or up to 10 years in cases where the offense is made online or as part of a conspiracy with a large group.5

While the December 2020 amendments included harsh penalties for insult and slander in certain instances, they also reduced the penalties for defamation and insult generally. In December 2020, the government amended Articles 139 and 140 of the criminal code, which still criminalize defamation and insult, but with reduced maximum penalties. In defamation cases, violators now face up to three years of “restrained liberty,” which could include house arrest, or two to three years of correctional labor, instead of a three-year imprisonment. Likewise, those who are guilty of insult now face up to one year of limited freedom, two to three years of correctional labor, or one year of “restrained liberty.”6

In March 2020,7 President Mirziyoyev 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’ imprisonment.8

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.9

In February 2022, the deputy internal affairs minister, who supervises the police, stated that President Mirziyoyev began drafting regulations prohibiting individuals from recording and disseminating images and videos of police officers without their approval or consent.10

  • 1“Criminal Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Art. 139 and 140,“ https://www.ctbto.org/fileadmin/user_upload/pdf/Legal_documents/nationa…
  • 2Zhanna 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“ЗАКОН РЕСПУБЛИКИ УЗБЕКИСТАН О ВНЕСЕНИИ ИЗМЕНЕНИЙ И ДОПОЛНЕНИЙ В УГОЛОВНЫЙ, УГОЛОВНО-ПРОЦЕССУАЛЬНЫЙ КОДЕКСЫ РЕСПУБЛИКИ УЗБЕКИСТАН И КОДЕКС РЕСПУБЛИКИ УЗБЕКИСТАН ОБ АДМИНИСТРАТИВНОЙ ОТВЕТСТВЕННОСТИ” [“Law of the Republic of Uzbekistan on Amendments and Supplements to the Criminal, Criminal Procedural Codes of the Republic of Uzbekistan and the Administrative Responsibility Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan],” December 26, 2020, https://www.lex.uz/acts/5186089?ONDATE=26.12.2020%2000#5189654.
  • 4“Uzbekistan establishes criminal liability for insulting the President on the Internet,” Kun.uz, March 31, 2021, https://kun.uz/en/news/2021/03/31/uzbekistan-establishes-criminal-liabi….
  • 5“О внесении изменений и дополнений в некоторые законодательные акты Республики Узбекистан [On amendments and additions to some legislative acts of the Republic of Uzbekistan],” xs.uz, March 31, 2021, https://xs.uz/ru/post/o-vnesenii-izmenenij-i-dopolnenij-v-nekotorye-zak….
  • 6Lex.uz, “УГОЛОВНЫЙ КОДЕКС РЕСПУБЛИКИ УЗБЕКИСТАН [CRIMINAL CODE OF THE REPUBLIC OF UZBEKISTAN],” December 25, 2020, https://lex.uz/docs/111457.
  • 7“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
  • 8“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
  • 9Mushfig Bayram, "Uzbekistan: Harshened Criminal And Administrative Code punishments," Forum 18, June 15, 2016, http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2189
  • 10UZnews, @uznewsuzb, “"ИИО ходимларини тасвирга олиб, рухсатсиз ижтимоий тармоқларга жойлаган шахслар жавобгарликка тортилади" - Бекмурод Абдуллаев” [“"People who take pictures of police officers and post them on social networks without permission will be prosecuted" - Bekmurod Abdullaev”], Telegram, February 18, 2022, https://t.me/uznewsuzb/14937.
C3 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Are individuals penalized for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards? 1.001 6.006

Despite Mirziyoyev's public statements about liberal reform, the government remains hostile 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. During these arrests, authorities often violate detainees’ fundamental rights by searching their phones without permission, accusing them of crimes they have not been charged of, and denying them access to legal assistance.

In February 2022, a district court in Xorazm Province sentenced blogger Sobirjon Bananiyazov to three years in prison for insulting Mirziyoyev and his daughter, as well as former president Islam Karimov, in a Facebook group.2 According to the official charge, the blogger “committed acts under aggravated circumstances” and “alcoholic intoxication.”3 The blogger posted two short videos and two audio messages via Telegram, explaining his acts were a result of “gas supply” issues and unemployment.4 Bananiyazov’s sentence marked the first time the March 2021 amendments to the criminal code, which criminalized insults against the president, were enforced (see C2).

In February 2022, the DXX summoned three Kun.uz journalists over their reporting on the Russian military’s invasion of Ukraine (see B2).5

In January 2022, the Almazar District Court of Tashkent sentenced Fozilhoja Arifhojayev, a religious blogger who regularly criticized the country’s clerical authorities, to a seven-and-a-half-year prison term for possessing “materials threatening public safety and public order” on his mobile phone.6 The charges stemmed from a Facebook post where he commented on whether Muslims should congratulate non-Muslims during their holidays.7 Arifhojayev was initially charged with petty hooliganism, but authorities later charged him with violating public order as well as extremism under Article 244 of the criminal code.8 The prison term was upheld in a March 2022 court ruling.9

In January 2022, the Mirabad Criminal Court of Tashkent sentenced activist Miraziz Bazarov to three years of restricted freedom, depriving him of internet access and his ability to practice psychology, for “libel” against three bloggers who are known to be associated with progovernment bloggers10 and against a representative from a local school district.11 Bazarov had accused the bloggers of inciting a mob attack against him via Telegram in March 2021 (see C7).12 The school district’s complaint was related to an April 2021 charge concerning an October 2020 TikTok video; in it, Bazarov said that “school is a place where old slaves and losers teach children to be slaves and losers.”13 Bazarov has criticized the government on Telegram and called for the decriminalization of sexual conduct between men, which is barred under the criminal code. Officials initially detained Bazarov the day after he was discharged from a hospital where he was recovering from the physical attack, likely in retaliation for his activism (see C7).14

In December 2021, anticorruption activist and blogger Ruslan Khairnurov, who exposed a multimillion-euro corruption scandal concerning an uncompleted recycling plant, was detained for sharing information regarding corruption in the health-care system on Facebook.15 Khairnurov was accused of libel and placed under house arrest during the criminal investigation, which was still ongoing at the end of the coverage period.16

In July 2021, blogger Ozodbek Kurbanov was seized by unknown men when he reported on an opposition political party’s complaint at the Constitutional Court.17 That same day, the Yashnabad Court of Tashkent City sentenced Kurbanov to 15 days’ administrative arrest for “obstruction of authority” and “insult” of a law enforcement officer. Kurbanov is also a member of the unregistered opposition Kahikat Tarrakiyot party, coordinating its public relations and regularly broadcasting on YouTube under the nickname “KUCH-BIRDAMLIK!”18

In July 2021, a Surxondaryo Province appeals court upheld a six-and-a-half-year sentence against Otabek Sattoriy, a blogger who writes about corruption and farmers’ rights.19 Sattoriy was detained by police, who accused him of threatening to publish an article on unfair prices in a bazaar unless he received a gift, in January 2021. That February, the prosecutor general’s office claimed seven complaints had been reported against Sattoriy, stating that he was “guilty of administrative offenses of slander, insult, and disseminating false information.”20 Sattoriy originally received his prison term for money extortion and aggravated slander in May 2021.21 In March 2022, cassation proceedings in response to a December 2021 complaint began at the Supreme Court, but Sattoriy was not allowed to attend.22

In November 2021, a Qashqadaryo Province court issued various sentences against three Effect.uz correspondents for covering the Sattoriy trial. Khamid Akhmedov received a two-and-a-half-year sentence of restricted freedom, Akbar Nurimbetov received three years’ restricted freedom, and Elyor Tadjibayev received three years’ imprisonment in a “settlement-colony,” which is a less restricted prison.23 In April 2021, the prosecutor general’s office charged the three correspondents24 with resistance to authority and interference with the Sattoriy trial.25 The journalists, who requested access to the trial prior to the hearing, denied the charges.

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.

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’ IMEI codes with the state.4 Service providers must block unregistered devices.

Amendments introduced in August 20185 and adopted in December 2019,6 which crack down on illegal Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services and the unauthorized use of protected Wi-Fi hotspots, led to rumors that using VPNs was being criminalized.7 The MiTC vehemently denied the rumors, asserting that they stemmed from a misunderstanding of the amendments’ language.8 However, certain VPN services, as well as the encrypted message application Signal, have apparently been blocked (see B1).

  • 1Resolution 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
  • 6Lex.uz, “ON AMENDMENTS TO SOME LEGISLATIVE ACTS OF THE REPUBLIC OF UZBEKISTAN IN CONNECTION WITH THE IMPROVEMENT OF THE PROCEDURE FOR DETERMINING THE SIZE OF WAGES, PENSIONS AND OTHER PAYMENTS [in Uzbek],” December 3, 2019, https://lex.uz/docs/4625127#4628459
  • 7Ministry 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
  • 8"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 November 2020, President Mirziyoyev signed amendments to the Law on Guarantees for Legal Advocacy and Social Protection of Lawyers, the Law on Operational-Search Activities, and the criminal code.2 The changes 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 Mirziyoyev.3

In July 2019, 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 frequently confiscate computers, phones, and other internet-enabled devices when conducting arrests (see C3).6

Since 2006, the National Security Service (MXX) 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 US 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 Privacy International. Privacy International reported that Verint also carried out tests on behalf of the MXX 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 Researchers from Kaspersky, a Russian-based cybersecurity firm, claimed that the security services have used software from the German company FinFisher, which has exported spyware to authoritarian countries around the world.9

In addition to purchasing spyware from foreign technology companies, the government has developed its own interception tools. Kaspersky identified one protocol for phone and computer hacking, called “Sharpa,” in October 2018.10 The protocol was reportedly created by an MXX-linked entity known as “Military Unit 02616.”

C6 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does monitoring and collection of user data by service providers and other technology companies infringe on users’ right to privacy? 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

In April 2021, amendments to the Law on Personal Data requiring companies to store the personal data of Uzbek citizens on servers in Uzbekistan came into effect; these servers must also be registered with Uzkomnazorat.3 Violators can be fined and can receive up to three years’ imprisonment. The law also allows Uzkomnazorat to block access to websites that do not comply with the new regulations.4 In July and November 2021, the law was used as a justification to block several social media platforms, including Facebook, LinkedIn, Odnoklassniki, Skype, Telegram, TikTok, Twitter, Vkontakte, WeChat, and YouTube. By August 2022, all of the platforms except TikTok were unblocked (see A3 and B1).

ISPs and mobile service providers are required to store user data for three months.5 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, those operators must also 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.6

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.7

  • 1Resolution 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
  • 3Разбор: персональные данные узбекистанцев обязали хранить в Узбекистане. Что изменится” [“Analysis: personal data of Uzbekistanis ordered to keep in Uzbekistan. What will change],” Spot UZ, January 29, 2021, https://www.spot.uz/ru/2021/01/29/database/
  • 4Library of Congress, “Uzbekistan: New Requirements for Uzbek Citizens' Personal Data Localization Enter into Force,” May 7, 2021, https://www.loc.gov/item/global-legal-monitor/2021-05-07/uzbekistan-new…
  • 5“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
  • 6See 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
  • 7Resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers, "On the National Security Service of the Republic of Uzbekistan," No. 278, at Part IV (3), November 2, 1991.
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 relation to 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 June 2021, three Effect.uz journalists were attacked by a mob, which was reportedly led by the son of the head of the Andijan City Council. The journalists were physically beaten after they discussed local issues with residents.1

Feruza Najmiddinova, a journalist working for Qalampir.uz, and her team were threatened by prosecutors in September 2021 after they posted a video of local business owners discussing the government’s illegal demolition of buildings.2

In March 2021, activist Miraziz Bazarov was attacked at a weekly event he hosts for fans of anime and K-pop, likely in relation to his work, and subsequently hospitalized. Before the attack, he said that men who attended earlier events had aggressively chanted “Allahu Akbar.” Bazarov regularly criticizes the Uzbek government on Telegram and has called for the decriminalization of sexual conduct between men.3 He was arrested in April 2021, the day after he was discharged from the hospital, and placed on house arrest in January 2022 (see C3).

In February 2021, Polish journalist Agniezska Pikulicka-Wilczewska reported that she was subjected to sexual harassment, including online harassment, when she filed for an extension of her press accreditation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Pikulicka-Wilczewska was also told that extension of her accreditation would be conditioned on positive coverage of the government. After the incident prompted widespread criticism, the ministry apologized to the journalist, fired the official involved, and approved Pikulicka-Wilczewska’s accreditation. 4 However, in June 2021, the ministry refused to extend her accreditation.5 Pikulicka-Wilczewska learned that she was banned from the country when she tried to reenter the day after President Mirziyoyev was sworn in for his second term in November 2021.6 Pikulicka-Wilczewska spent two days at the Kazakh-Uzbek border before she was taken to Tashkent’s airport by security officers; the journalist then returned to Poland.7

In January 2021, blogger Aziza Umarova experienced a wave of targeted harassment from social media accounts that accused her of bias against Russia. Umarova believes she was targeted in retaliation for Facebook posts criticizing the economic links between Central Asian countries and Russia and attributed the activity to bots.8

In August 2020, journalist Nigora Alimova, who also moderated the popular Facebook group “A Ship of Fools,” was summoned to the IIV. After she was released, she posted on Facebook in support of government officials.”9 Blogger Alisher Ilkhamov expressed concern that she was forced to make the statement.10

Critics who live abroad have also faced online harassment. In April 2021, social media accounts harassed Nadejda Atayeva, a frequent critic of the government, accusing her of supporting slavery in Moldova.11 In February 2021, Alisher Ilkhamov, a prominent social scientist residing in the United Kingdom, said he was threatened by Uzbek security services after he posted comments critical of Tashkent’s policies via social media.12

In November 2019, journalist Davlatnazar Ruzmetov, also known as Davlat Nazar, was killed in a hit-and-run incident in Xorazm Province.13 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,14 but human rights defenders (HRDs) say he had been under state surveillance. The man who struck and killed Ruzmetov was released after just three months of detention.15

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.16

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

HRDs, bloggers, and online journalists regularly report attempts to compromise their online accounts.

In June 2022, after the coverage period, AsiaTerra faced distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks that temporarily left the website inaccessible. The website’s Facebook page was also compromised.1

In April 2021, the Telegram account of a Kun.uz employee was breached via IP addresses based in Uzbekistan and Sweden. Although the reporter had enabled two-step verification, they did not receive a short-message service (SMS) text prior to the hack. The extent of damage remained unknown, but Kun.uz asked law enforcement to find the cyberattack’s perpetrators.2

In August 2020, unknown attackers attempted to access the Telegram accounts of bloggers and several channel administrators. A group of bloggers and journalists—including Anora Sodiqova,3 Eldor Asanov,4 Zafarbek Solijonov, Feruzkhan Yakubkhodazhev, Sasha Ivanyuzhenko, Zafarbek Solizhonov,5 Shukhrat Kurbanov, Daniil Kislov6 and Rada Abdullayeva7 —reported attempts to seize their Telegram accounts. All of the attempts were initiated on August 6, indicating that the attack was coordinated. The group included the administrators of several Telegram channels, including @nobody_cares_but, @insider_uz, and @kurbanoffnet, all of which have thousands of subscribers.8

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.9 In addition, the cybersecurity company eQualit.ie reported that three websites it protects—Centre1, Eltuz, and Fergana News—sustained DDoS attacks in 2018 and 2019.10 eQualit.ie could not establish that the government of Uzbekistan was behind these incidents.

In April 2022, the parliament passed the Law on Cybersecurity, which came into effect in July. The law requires operators of “critical facilities,” including in transportation, defense, law enforcement, public health, and other areas, to implement the government’s cybersecurity guidelines, retain data for at least three months, and give the DXX the right to access cybersecurity systems.11

On Uzbekistan

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

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  • Global Freedom Score

    11 100 not free
  • Internet Freedom Score

    27 100 not free
  • Freedom in the World Status

    Not Free
  • Networks Restricted

    No
  • Websites Blocked

    Yes
  • Pro-government Commentators

    Yes
  • Users Arrested

    Yes