Uzbeks protest violence in Andijon outside of the embassy in Brussels. Photo licensed CC by Radio Free Europe.
The 2011 uprisings in the Middle East have prompted speculation about whether digital technology can and will be used to foment similar uprisings in former Soviet authoritarian states. This paper examines the relationship between political activism and internet freedom in Uzbekistan. It argues that while the internet is a critical tool for political expression, its utility as a tool for activism is challenged both by threats from the government and by fear and apathy among Uzbek internet users. It further discusses how the Uzbek government has responded to these technologies and the problems Uzbeks face when using them for political purposes.
Laws and regulations on the internet in Uzbekistan have been changed in reaction to political events especially the 2005 violence in Andijon. As a result the national security services now play a large role in internet regulation and changes made to the legal code and state technological infrastructure ensure centralized control. As of 2012, Uzbekistan has the most severe restrictions on internet use in Central Asia. The government uses filters, monitoring, intimidation, and violence to keep people from freely accessing the internet, and justifies these policies under the pretext of protecting national values. Ordinary citizens in Uzbekistan are wary of using the internet for political purposes and practice self-censorship online. Yet despite the efforts of the government to control user activity, the internet serves a valuable purpose for Uzbeks willing and able to circumvent state prohibitions.
This paper makes several key policy recommendations aimed at encouraging freedom of expression in Uzbekistan and similar societies. These include encouraging circumvention efforts, developing safe spaces for online discourse, and translating, copying, and preserving Uzbek online media.
Read the full paper on Digital Freedom of Expression in Uzbekistan.