Human Rights Watch published an article on reforms in Uzbekistan in the field of protection of human rights and freedom of speech.
The article welcomes the reforms initiated by the head of state in this direction, in particular the closure of the infamous Zhaslyk prison.
Below is a short content of this article:
This spring, breaking with decades of censorship of the internet, the authorities lifted a ban on several critical websites. And the government’s key representative on the media recently all but conceded that social media and bloggers are now some of Uzbekistan’s most important arbiters of public opinion.
These moves, combined with the removal of currency restrictions, easing of visa restrictions for visitors from many foreign countries, and a warming of ties with Uzbekistan’s Central Asian neighbors, have contributed to a sense of hope among many ordinary Uzbeks about the possibility for change not witnessed in decades.
Release of Political Prisoners: Tip of the Iceberg
Since September 2016, Uzbek authorities have released about 50 people imprisoned on politically motivated charges, including human rights activists, journalists, and peaceful opposition activists.
In March 2018, the authorities told Human Rights Watch that they had stopped applying Article 221 of Uzbekistan’s Criminal Code regarding “violations of prison rules.” The article had been used for years to arbitrarily extend the sentences of political prisoners. Since late 2017, the authorities have also removed over 20,000 citizens from the security services’ “blacklists.” People on these lists, suspected of extremism, were regularly summoned for questioning and restricted in their ability to travel internally and abroad.
Media More Free, Civil Society Still Restricted
Freedom of speech and the media have improved under Mirziyoyev but remain restricted. With 56 percent of the population under age 30 and increasing numbers of mobile internet users, both Uzbek- and Russian-language online media are experiencing a period of growth. Some pioneering outlets like kun.uz and gazeta.uz are covering sensitive issues such as forced labor and corruption that were previously taboo, helping bring to the fore cases of injustice or wrongdoing by officials. Yet some media remain under state control and self-censorship is still widespread.
Last December the government restored access to YouTube and Facebook, which had been blocked for various periods in 2018. In May, the government unblocked at least 11 independent websites that had been inaccessible for over a decade, including Eurasianet, Fergana News, Human Rights Watch, and the BBC’s Uzbek service. In the past two years, Eurasianet, Voice of America (Amerika Ovozi), and the BBC’s correspondents have all received accreditation.