Uzbekistan has one of the most tightly controlled online and media environments in the world. This was the result of the 2016 Freedom on the Net Report, an in-depth study, conducted annually by Freedom House, to assess internet freedom around the world.
The latest report confirms the overall trends of declining online freedom and, at the same time, growing internet activism over the past years. The study focused on three categories: obstacles to access, limits of content and violations of user rights. For each category, the countries were given negative points, whereby a lower number of points implies a freer situation and a higher number of points a less free environment.
Among the 65 countries examined in the report, Uzbekistan was ranked among the least free, scoring 79 of a possible 100 points. The country has also received bad rankings in previous years due to its high content surveillance, including the blockage of many international news outlets and lengthy prison sentences for authors of content critical of the government.
New developments observed by this year’s report have been the prohibition of Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP) services, including Skype, WhatsApp and Viber, and the increased penalties for vague crimes like threatening public order using mass media or telecommunications networks, which the report considers likely to further impede critical reporting online.
The study found that nearly half of the Uzbek population had internet access in 2015, mainly because of the high service costs, low broadband speeds, limits on data volume and the government’s significant control over the infrastructure.
According to the report, online communications are monitored and controlled by the Uzbek government which,
“engages in pervasive and systematic blocking of independent news and any content that is critical of the regime, particularly related to foreign and domestic affairs or human rights abuses”.
The report also pointed at the Uzbek government’s practice to silence independent journalists and human rights defenders by means of intimidation, violence, and criminal prosecution, “often on fabricated charges”. In this regard, it referred to Dmitry Tikhonov who had to flee the country after an intimidation campaign and continued threats of arrests.
In terms of future developments, the study does not draw a very optimistic picture: After the death of President Islam Karimov in September 2016, acting President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has pledged to continue Karimov’s legacy, meaning “internet freedom is unlikely to improve”.
The full report can be found here: https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-net/freedom-net-2016
The findings on Uzbekistan are available at: https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-net/2016/uzbekistan