Uzbekistan: Government says it has unblocked independent websites


TASHKENT (TCA) — The head of Uzbekistan’s Information and Mass Communication Agency has said that access to a dozen news and human rights websites has been restored in the Central Asian country, RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service reported.

Komil Allamjonov posted on Facebook on May 10 that “certain technical issues” had been resolved and local access to the websites had been restored.

Some of the sites had been blocked since 2004.

Allamjonov said the newly accessible sites include the BBC’s Uzbek Service, Voice of America, Deutsche Welle, Eurasianet, AsiaTerra, the Fergana Agency, and other information resources.

The websites of rights groups including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Reporters Without Borders were also reportedly unblocked.

The website of RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service and those of several other prominent private news agencies were not included in Allamjonov’s post.

Uzbek activist Alisher Ilkhamov, who lives in London, posted on Facebook that it was “too early” to celebrate because of the websites that remain blocked.

“If the ‘technical problems’ remain for those websites, it will seem less like a step toward freedom of speech and more like a policy of divide and conquer,” Ilkhamov wrote. “In this case, it will be the journalism community that is divided. If the lucky ones remain silent about those less fortunate, then that policy will have been a success.”

Last month, Harlem Desir, the representative on freedom of the media for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), called on Tashkent to end the blocking of media websites.

“I have written to the authorities asking them to set forth a series of reforms to ensure unhindered access to online media in the country,” Desir was quoted as saying in an OSCE press release.

“I call on authorities to restore access to the blocked websites and reform the laws and regulations affecting access to information and freedom of expression in the country,” he concluded.

Many media and rights organization were de facto banned in Uzbekistan after the government’s violent suppression of protests in the city of Andijon in 2005. Hundreds of protesters are believed to have been shot dead by security forces during the violence.

The decision to unblock the websites could be part of a gradual opening up of the country following the death of longtime dictator Islam Karimov in 2016.

“I would like to note that the President of Uzbekistan constantly emphasizes the need to ensure freedom of speech and information in Uzbekistan,” Allamjanov wrote, referring to Karimov’s successor, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev.

Sergey Kwan