The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government restricted these rights for both online and offline media.
Freedom of Expression: The government exercises official and unofficial restrictions on the ability of individuals to criticize the government or to discuss matters of general public interest. The law restricts criticism of the president, and publicly insulting the president is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison. The law specifically prohibits publication of articles that incite religious confrontation and ethnic discord or that advocate subverting or overthrowing the constitutional order.
Press and Media Freedom: Independent media does not operate freely because the state exercises broad control over media coverage. All media entities, foreign and domestic, must register with authorities and provide the names of their founder, chief editor, and staff members. Print media must also provide hard copies of publications to the government. The law holds all foreign and domestic media organizations accountable for the accuracy of their reporting, prohibits foreign journalists from working in the country without official accreditation, and subjects foreign media outlets to domestic mass media laws. The government used accreditation rules to deny foreign journalists and media outlets the opportunity to work in the country.
Amendments to the Law on Information Technologies hold bloggers legally accountable for the accuracy of what they post and prohibit posts potentially perceived as defaming an individual’s “honor and dignity.” Limitations also preclude perceived calls for public disorder, encroachment on constitutional order, posting pornography or state secrets, issuing “threats to the state,” and “other activities that are subject to criminal and other types of responsibilities according to legislation.”
The government prohibited the promotion of religious extremism, separatism, and fundamentalism as well as the instigation of ethnic and religious hatred.
Articles in state-controlled newspapers reflected the government’s viewpoint. The main government newspapers published selected international wire stories. The government prohibited legal entities with more than 30 percent foreign ownership from establishing media outlets. The government allowed publication of a few private newspapers with limited circulation containing advertising, horoscopes, and some substantive local news, including infrequent stories critical of government socioeconomic policies.
The government used large-circulation tabloids, such as Darakchi and Bekajon, as platforms to publish articles that criticized lower-level government officials. A few purportedly independent websites consistently reported the government’s viewpoint. During the year, however, press and news organizations began broadcasting and publishing a wider variety of views and news, to include criticisms and policies enacted under former president Karimov. In July the government launched Ozbekiston, a 24-hour news channel that broadcast current affairs and news in Uzbek, Russian, and English. Most of the programming was prerecorded for later broadcast, especially programming with political content or government officials.
Violence and Harassment: Police and security services subjected print and broadcast journalists to arrest, harassment, and intimidation as well as to bureaucratic restrictions on their activity. In August police detained Samarkand-based journalist Toshpulat Rahmatullayev for taking photos at the Samarkand Extension Center of the Tashkent University for a story on university enrollment and admissions testing. Police interrogated Rahmatullayev and deleted the journalist’s photos from his camera before releasing him without charges. Uzbek Security Services arrested journalist Hayot Nasreddinov on October 20. Nasreddinov was a journalist and contributed as a blogger to RFE/RL’s Uzbek service, according to Shukhrat Babadjanov, a reporter with the broadcaster. In 2012-13, he worked as a freelancer for Moscow-based ferghana.ru, which published dozens of his articles. Nasreddinov was charged with attempting to overthrow the constitutional order.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists and senior editorial staff in state media organizations reported that some officials’ responsibilities included censorship. In many cases the government placed individuals as editors in chief with the expressed intent that they serve as the main censor for a particular media outlet. Continuing the past trend of moderate criticism of the government, online publications like Kommersant.uz and Nuz.uz have published critical stories on issues such as electricity outages, currency, trade, and the black market.
Government security services and other offices regularly directed publishers and broadcasters to propagate stories that discredited individuals and human rights activists. In April online news site UzMetronom, known as a placement site for deliberate government leaks, including from the security ministries, distributed reports intended to discredit human rights activist Elena Urlaeva.
There was often little distinction between the editorial content of a government and a privately owned newspaper. Journalists engaged in little investigative reporting. Widely read tabloids occasionally published articles that presented mild criticism of government policies or discussed some problems that the government considered sensitive, such as trafficking in persons.
In April a presidential decree established an “International Press Club” and directed ministers to begin engaging with the press. Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdulaziz Kamilov held a press conference July 5, during which he took questions and spoke on a range of issues for nearly two hours. Access to the press club is severely limited to predominantly state media representatives.
Libel/Slander Laws: The criminal and administrative codes impose significant fines for libel and defamation. The government used charges of libel, slander, and defamation to punish journalists, human rights activists, and others who criticized the president or the government. In February businessman Olim Sulaymanov created a Facebook video that accused a Prosecutor General’s Office official of freezing his business assets after he refused to pay what he said was a protection racket fee. Sulaymanov later appeared on a talk show to discuss the case. Following the talk show appearance, the Prosecutor’s Office filed a court motion against Sulaymanov, accusing him of libel. In April a Tashkent court sentenced Sulaymanov to three years in jail.
The government generally allowed access to the internet, including social media sites. Internet service providers, allegedly at the government’s request, routinely blocked access to websites or certain pages of websites that the government considered objectionable, such as Fergananews.com, Ozodlik.org, and Asiaterra.info. The government blocked several domestic and international news websites and those operated by opposition political parties.
The media law defines websites as media outlets, requiring them to register with authorities and provide the names of their founder, chief editor, and staff members. Websites were not required to submit hard copies of publications to the government.
According to government statistics, approximately 39 percent of individuals in the country used the internet. Unofficial estimates, especially of internet access through mobile communications devices, were higher. Several active online forums allowed registered users to post comments and read discussions on a range of social problems. To become a registered user in these forums, individuals must provide personally identifiable information. It was not clear whether the government attempted to collect this information, although provisions of the Law on Information Technologies require internet cafe proprietors to log customers’ browser history.
A decree requires all websites seeking the “.uz” domain to register with the government’s Agency for Press and Information. The decree generally affected only government-owned or government-controlled websites. Opposition websites and those operated by international NGOs or media outlets tended to have domain names registered outside the country.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
The government continued to limit academic freedom and cultural events. Authorities occasionally required department head approval for university lectures, and university professors generally practiced self-censorship.
Although a decree prohibits cooperation between higher educational institutions and foreign entities without the explicit approval of the government, foreign institutions often were able to obtain such approval through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, especially for foreign-language projects. Some school and university administrations, however, continued to pressure teachers and students to refrain from participating in conferences sponsored by diplomatic missions.