Accessibility links

Uzbekistan: Government Increases Its Blocking Of News Websites

  • Farangis Najibullah

The government of Uzbek President Islam Karimov has taken a heavy-handed approach to independent media (AFP) April 23, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- With a presidential election expected in Uzbekistan in December, the country's authorities are stepping up efforts to limit the public's access to independent sources of information.

Since truly independent newspapers, radio, and television stations are almost nonexistent in Uzbekistan, the government has turned its attention to the Internet, blocking news websites and creating pro-government sites that cover events from the government's viewpoint.

Banned List Grows

The Russian-language website portal-credo.ru is the most recent addition to the list of the many political, opposition, and news websites that the Uzbek government is keeping users in Uzbekistan from seeing.

"Closing down the Internet is a foolish idea. You cannot close it. The person who tries to shut down the Internet is a complete fool." -- Uzbek President Islam Karimov

While control of the independent media and free speech by Uzbek President Islam Karimov's government has long been criticized by local and international observers, the censorship of independent sources of information intensified after the bloody crackdown on protests in the eastern city of Andijon in May 2005.

An Internet user in the city of Namangan, who did not want to give his name for security reasons, told RFE/RL that he tried but could not access many international websites.

"For instance, it is impossible to enter Ozodlik Radio [RFE/RL's Uzbek Service] website," he said. "Firstly, as soon as you type the word 'Ozodlik' the Internet shuts down. Secondly, access to the Birlik site or other websites that cover human rights issues, is barred. For example, sites such as fergana.ru or centrasia.ru have been blocked."

Observers say the government is particularly wary of regional news -- such as information about the recent antigovernment protests in neighboring Kyrgyzstan -- reaching an Uzbek audience.

Access Denied

Alisher Soipov is an editor at the regional news website fergana.ru, which is being blocked in Uzbekistan along with uzmetronom.com, centrasia.ru, bbc.co.uk/uzbek, and many other local, regional, and international websites.

"The [Internet] censorship in Uzbekistan is being strengthened," he said. "The Internet is full of calls for revolution and is full of information that casts doubt on the country's 'great future' as well as over the leader of the country's wisdom, power, and abilities. The Uzbek government would not want to lose its credibility in front of its people [by them getting such information on the Internet]. It could be the reason why they block [the Internet]."

Oleg, an Internet cafe owner in Tashkent, tells RFE/RL that access to many websites has been blocked for many years.

ISPs Pressured

Paris-based Julien Pain is the head of the Internet Freedom Desk at Reporters Without Borders. He blames the Uzbek security services for barring the news sites.

"The security services in Uzbekistan are very involved in controlling the Internet and putting pressure upon the Internet Service Providers [ISPs], so they blocked the opposition websites," Pain said.

The Internet is not yet hugely popular in Uzbekistan, but like the other Central Asian countries, the number of Internet users -- private computer owners as well as Internet cafes -- has been growing rapidly in recent years. According to official figures, some 1.5 million of Uzbekistan's 27 million people have access to the Internet.

The Uzbek government says it wants to develop Internet access in the country. Karimov has on several occasions even criticized the idea of trying to block the Internet.

"The Internet is like a big shop," the president said. "When you enter the shop, you buy the goods you desire. Closing down the Internet is a foolish idea. You cannot close it. The person who tries to shut down the Internet is a complete fool."

Information War?

Daniel Kislov, the Moscow-based chief of ferghana.ru, says the Uzbek authorities who apparently see some websites as their political enemies have not only barred those sites in Uzbekistan, they have also tried to establish their own websites to counter the independent flow of information.

Easily accessible, multilingual sites such as press-uz.info or gorizont.uz cover domestic and international news from the government's standpoint.

"[The Uzbek authorities] think they are taking part in some kind of information war," Kislov said. "If it is so, this war has been announced against us or against the whole enlightened world by the authorities themselves."

It appears as though Internet users in Uzbekistan are caught in the middle of this conflict.

However, some Internet cafe owners say that many of their visitors -- especially the young ones -- do not show much of an interest in the political websites, and they are mostly visiting entertainment sites to play games or to just chat with their friends.

(RFE/RL's Uzbek Service contributed to this report.)

XS
SM
MD
LG