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and Twitter were being blocked, though the social media tools as a whole remained available.
Similarly, in February 2012, the media reported that the Uzbek-language pages of Wikipedia were
blocked, while their Russian counterparts remained available, although the latter typically contain
more information on often-censored topics like human rights abuses. Analysts speculated that the
block was more related to the government’s nationalistic wish to monopolize Uzbek-language
content than because of concerns that users would access politically sensitive information.
Most censorship takes place at the country’s international internet connection, operated by
Uztelecom, which aggregates the private ISPs’ traffic at a single node within its infrastructure.
There is a widespread suspicion of involvement of foreign firms providing networking equipment
to Uztelecom for the purpose of state censorship over the internet. The architecture of Uztelecom's
network UzNet, which provides internet transit for private ISPs and internet access in
governmental institutions, is based on network routers and switches produced by Cisco Systems,
Moreover, in its daily operations, Uztelecom widely employs the equipment of the Chinese
company ZTE. ZTE opened its Uzbek office in 2003 and became a leading supplier of USB
modems, mobile phones, and routers to all mobile phone operators and Uztelecom.
Furthermore, the government grants ISPs and mobile phone operators import duty and sales tax
exemptions on surveillance equipment, which they are then required to install on their networks at
their own expense.
Reportedly, the government has abolished some of its import tax exemptions
on telecommunications equipment in 2013.
Under the 1999 Law on Telecommunications and several other government resolutions, the license
of lower tier ISPs may be withheld or denied if the company fails to take measures to prevent their
computer networks from being used for exchanging information deemed to violate national laws,
including ones that restrict political speech. 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.”
Given these broad restrictions, many individuals and organizations
prefer to host their websites outside the country.
Institute for War & Peace Reporting, “Tashkent Spooked by Web Interest in Arab Protests,” News briefing, February 24, 2011,
Jillian C. York, “This Week in Censorship: Syrian, Moroccan Bloggers Under Fire; New Censorship in Uzbekistan,” Electronic
Frontier Foundation, March 1, 2012, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2012/02/week‐censorship‐blogger‐threats‐syria‐morocco‐
uzbek‐censorship; Sarah Kendzior, “Censorship as Performance Art: Uzbekistan’s Bizarre Wikipedia Ban,” The Atlantic, February
23, 2012, http://bit.ly/zpyytP.
Uztelecom, "Бизнесни ривожлантириш Маркази," accessed July 30, 2013, http://bit.ly/15CvbSH.
UzDaily, "ZTE Corporation Expands Cooperation with Uzbekistan," November 1, 2011, http://www.uzdaily.com/articles‐id‐
16308.htm. But ZTE is often accused of facilitating internet censorship and surveillance worldwide. See Madeline Earp, "China
not most censored, but may be most ambitious," May 2, 2012, http://bit.ly/IUL7Yj.
See the "Violations of Users Rights" below. See Tax Code of RU, SZRU (2007) No. 52(II), at Arts. 208 (§33), 211 (§7), 211 (§9),
230 (part 2, §5), 269 (§§15‐16), and 355 (§ 13).
Regulation "О порядке предоставления доступа к сети Интернет в общественных пунктах пользования" [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.
According to government figures, only about 30 percent of websites with “.uz” domain names were hosted on servers based
in Uzbekistan as of December 2011. See Uzinfocom, "Только цифры" Only Numbers, January 5, 2012, http://bit.ly/1hbO2sN.
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The government has also placed political pressure on mobile phone operators. In March 2011, amid
growing unrest in the Middle East, regulators demanded that operators notify the government of
any attempts to circulate mass text messages with “suspicious content” and reportedly warned that
the providers would be required to shut down internet connections provided to mobile users at the
Several government-linked entities monitor and control online communications, though the opaque
system offers few details on how decisions are made or what websites are blocked at any given
time. The Center for the Monitoring of the Mass Communications Sphere, which is integrated into
the structure of the State Committee on CITT, takes various measures to maintain compliance with
national legislation that restricts free expression.
Its key objectives are “to analyze the content of
information disseminated online and ensure its consistency with existing laws and regulations.”
Based on its systematic monitoring of online content, the center has contributed to the takedown of
In August 2011, the government created a new secretive body—the Expert Commission on
Information and Mass Communications—to oversee online controls, including the work of the
The commission is not independent and must submit quarterly reports to the
Cabinet of Ministers.
Furthermore, its membership is not made public,
although the body is
reportedly comprised exclusively of government employees.
The new commission is mandated to
evaluate online publications and determine if they (1) have a “destructive and negative
informational-psychological influence on the public consciousness of citizens;” (2) fail to “maintain
and ensure continuity of national and cultural traditions and heritage;” or (3) aim to “destabilize the
public and political situation,” or commit other potential content violations.
The commission also assesses publications referred to it by the Monitoring Center or other state
bodies, including the courts and law enforcement, drawing on a designated pool of government-
Murat Sadykov, “Uzbekistan Tightens Control over Mobile Internet,” Eurasianet.org, March 15, 2011,
Zhanna Hördegen, “The Future of Internet Media in Uzbekistan: Transformation from State Censorship to Monitoring of
Information Space since Independence,” in Eric Freedman and Richard Schafer (eds.), After the Czars and Commissars:
Journalism in Authoritarian Post‐Soviet Central Asia (The Eurasian Political Economy and Public Policy Studies Series, Michigan
State University Press, April 2011), 99‐121.
Paragraph 1, Regulation No. 555, On the Measures of Improving the Organizational Structures in the Sphere of Mass
Telecommunications, adopted by the Cabinet of Ministers of Uzbekistan on November 24, 2004, via OpenNet Intiative,
“Uzbekistan,” December 2010, http://opennet.net/research/profiles/uzbekistan#footnote37_1d627h4.
A news website Informator.uz was shut down in 2007. See, “Pochemu zakrito nezavisimoe SMI Uzbekistana—
Informator.Uz?” Why the independent mass media of Uzbekistan, Informator.Uz, is closed?, September 20, 2007,
www.uforum.uz/showthread.php?t=2565. See also Freedom on the Net 2013: Uzbekistan, regarding the case of
Resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers RU, "О дополнительных мерах по совершенствованию системы мониторинга в
сфере массовых коммуникаций" On Supplementary Measures for the Improvement of the Monitoring System for the Sphere
of Mass Communications, No. 228, 5 August 2011, SZ RU (2011) No. 32‐33, item 336.
Ibid., at Annex II, Art. 31.
Ibid., Annex I, containing a list of the Commission's members, is not made public.
Reporters Without Borders, “Uzbekistan,” Enemies of the Internet 2012.
Resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers RU, No. 228, at Art. 1 and Annex II, Art. 5. See note 50 above.
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The experts submit reports to the commission, whose members then vote on
whether or not a violation has been committed. If a violation is found, the decision becomes the
basis for action to be taken by state bodies, including courts, and by “other organizations,”
presumably private ISPs.
There are no procedures in place that require notification of those whose
content is affected by the decision or that grant them an opportunity to defend the speech in
question, nor is there a clear avenue to appeal the decision after it is made. As of April 2013, the
Commission appeared to be functioning but little information on its activities is available. The
broadly defined violations and wide discretion granted to the commission raised concerns of how it
could be used to suppress or punish free speech—including ordering ISPs to delete content or
encouraging the arbitrary imprisonment of bloggers—particularly given the Uzbek government’s
track record of politically motivated censorship.
Self-censorship is pervasive, given the government’s tight controls over the media and harsh
punishment of those who report on topics deemed “taboo,” including criticism of the president,
revelations about corruption, or health education.
Given the government’s history of harassing
traditional journalists, as well as their families, many online writers are cautious about what they
The editorial direction of the online versions of state-run news outlets is often determined by
unofficial guidelines from the government. In an apparent effort to develop the country’s media
and information society, President Karimov signed a decree in December 2011 that extends tax
preferences to media outlets. Taking effect on January 1, 2012, the decree exempts media services
from the value added tax (VAT) and decreases the single tax payment required of media
organizations from six to five percent, among other changes.
While the decree purportedly aims
to strengthen “public control over the activities of state power and control,”
observers have noted
that without an overall change in the regime’s attitude to independent media, the new benefits will
unlikely have a meaningful effect on freedom of speech in the country.
According to the website rating firm Alexa, international social media websites like Facebook,
YouTube, and Twitter, as well their Russian equivalents, are among the most visited websites in
Uzbekistan. The most popular social-networking site in Uzbekistan is the Russian
Odnoklassniki.ru, which became available in the Uzbek language in December 2012.
Ibid., at Art. 1 and Annex II, Art. 14.
Ibid., at Annex II, Arts. 26 and 29.
For the detailed discussion of the governmental regulation of speech on ideological grounds, see: Zhanna Kozhamberdiyeva,
“Freedom of Expression on the Internet: A Case Study of Uzbekistan,” Review of Central and East European Law Vol. 33 (1)
Uznews.net, "В Узбекистане закрывается лучший медицинский сайт" The Best Medical Website is Going to be Shut Down
in Uzbekistan, March 25, 2010, http://www.uznews.net/news_single.php?lng=ru&cid=30&sub=&nid=13072; Catherine A.
Fitzpatrick, “Uzbekistan: AIDS Activist Released, But Other Human Rights Defenders Harassed,” September 6, 2011,
Alastair Carthew and Simon Winkelmann, “Uzbekistan – Overview,” Konrad‐Adenauer‐Stiftung ‐ Media Programme Asia, last
updated May 24, 2012, http://www.kas.de/medien‐asien/en/pages/10117/.
“President of Uzbekistan Provides Tax Preferences to Media,” The Journal of Turkish Weekly, December 31, 2011,
“Top Sites in Uzbekistan,” Alexa.com, accessed May 1, 2012, http://www.alexa.com/topsites/countries/UZ.
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ranked second with over 120,000 members from Uzbekistan by April 2012, a notable increase
from the year before.
As social-networking sites and blogging platforms have grown in popularity, the government has
adopted a new approach to influence the information circulated on them by creating and promoting
Uzbek alternatives to popular global or regional brands. In 2010, the state-run Uzinfocom Center
began creating a “social media zone” specifically geared toward users of the ZiyoNet intranet in
Uzbekistan. The zone includes a range of Web 2.0 applications, including Id.uz (a social-
networking site), Fikr.uz (a blog-hosting platform), Utube.uz (a video-sharing platform), Smsg.uz
(an instant messenger service), and Desk.uz (a site for personal widgets). Access to these
applications requires users to register either as an anonymous user or with their passport details.
Although for the moment the zone’s applications remain less popular than international brands, as
of April 2013, 35,792 people had registered at Id.uz.
Uzinfocom Center’s close relationship to
the government has also raised concerns over the pressure the applications may receive from the
authorities to censor and monitor users.
Besides the social media zone aimed at ZiyoNet users, two other social-networking websites were
created in recent years with government support.
The more popular of the two, Muloqot.uz
(meaning “dialogue”), was launched in September 2011 in an apparent effort to offset the growing
influence of Facebook.
It is open only to Uzbek citizens residing in Uzbekistan, and at least one
incident of censorship has been reported.
On the first day the social network was launched, staff
of the Uzbek service of RFE/RL reportedly registered accounts and posted RFE/RL content,
which is usually blocked, to a general “wall.” According to their reports, within 15 minutes, their
profiles were deleted.
The blogosphere in Uzbekistan is weak, largely of entertainment character, and, due to the
repressive environment, unable to significantly facilitate public discourse on political and social
A handful of blogs critical of the regime are run by Uzbek dissidents (for example:
Jahonnoma.com, Turonzamin.org, Fromuz.com) or are affiliated with independent online news
sites like Uznews.net or Fergananews.com. Since its establishment in January 2012, a forum at
Choyxona.com has become somewhat popular, with around 1,400 threads, 55,000 posts, and 620
members as of May 2013. It is run by the former editors of Arbuz.com, a forum site that was
suspended in 2011 after Uzbek authorities arrested several of its users.
“Uzbekistan Facebook Statistics,” SocialBakers, accessed May 1, 2012, http://www.socialbakers.com.
Uzinfocom, "Только цифры" Only Numbers, April 2013, http://www.uzinfocom.uz/ru/news/406.
UzACI, "Развиваются национальные информационные ресурсы. ‐ УзА" [National information Resources are Developing ‐
UzA], which reports on the creation of http://my.olam.uz/ with support of Uztelecom,
"Manifest of the Community Muloqot.Uz," Muloqot, accessed May 1, 2012, http://muloqot.uz/help/about.
Freedom House, “Uzbekistan Launches Government‐Run Social Networking Site on Anniversary of Independence,” Freedom
Alert, August 31, 2011, http://bit.ly/KgeA1F.
Luke Allnutt, “Uzbekistan Launches Its Own Facebook, Except It’s Not For Everyone.”
Sarah Kendzior, "Digital Freedom of Expression in Uzbekistan: An Example of Social Control and Censorship in the 21st
Century," New America Foundation, July 18, 2012,
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