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Internet users in Uzbekistan have reported disruptions to Twitter, TikTok, VKontakte, and other social networks. (file photo)

Uzbekistan’s communications regulator has restricted access to several social media websites for violating personal data laws.

O'zkomnazorat announced the restrictions on July 2 without mentioning which social media sites fall under the order.

However, Internet users in Central Asia’s most populous country reported disruptions to Twitter, TikTok, VKontakte, and Skype. In particular, the restrictions reportedly involve throttling, or reduced speed when using the networks.

O'zkomnazorat said social media websites had violated a new personal data law in effect since April which requires Internet companies to store the personal data of Uzbek users on servers in the country.

Use of the social networks will be "limited in accordance with the established procedure until the identified deficiencies are eliminated," the regulator said.

In recent weeks, O'zkomnazorat has issued warnings to Twitter, Russia’s VKontakte, Twitter, Tencent’s We Chat, TikTok owner ByteDance, and Microsoft’s Skype over violations of the personal data law.

The latest restrictions on information in Uzbekistan come as the authoritarian state prepares for a presidential election in October, with President Shavkat Mirziyoev almost certain to win another term.

Ahead of the election, authorities have tightened rules on the Internet and increased pressure on journalists and bloggers.

In March, amendments to communications laws criminalized insulting or defaming the president online and making online calls for "mass disturbances."

Mirziyoev has positioned himself as a reformer since taking office following the death of his authoritarian predecessor, Islam Karimov, in 2016, releasing political prisoners and opening his country to its neighbors and the outside world.

Human rights groups say the reforms have not gone far enough.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Russian and Uzbek services
Police are shown detaining activists and their supporters in Shymkent on July 1.

SHYMKENT, Kazakhstan -- A group of activists detained in the Kazakh city of Shymkent while demanding the release of political prisoners and the reversal of court decisions banning two political groups have been sentenced to jail amid a crackdown on opposition and human rights activists as the country prepares to mark the 81st birthday of authoritarian former President Nursultan Nazarbaev.

A court in Shymkent on July 2 sentenced Erlan Faizullaev and Nurzhan Abildaev each to 15 days in jail and fined Ermek Qonyshbaev $340 after finding them guilty of violating the law on public gatherings. All three were on a hunger strike.

The court also sentenced Zhanmurat Ashtaev, a supporter of the hunger strikers, to 10 days in jail on the same charge.

The three activists started their hunger strike in Shymkent on May 24, joining dozens of other activists in Nur-Sultan and several other Kazakh cities who have been demanding the cancellation of court decisions labeling as extremist and banning the unregistered opposition Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) movement and its associated Koshe (Street) party.

In the oil-rich Central Asian nation's largest city, Almaty, police on July 1 detained without explanation noted opposition politician Zhasaral Quanyshalin near his home. They were forced to release him hours later after he was rushed to the hospital, where he was treated for a dislocated finger and high blood pressure.

Quanyshalin wrote on Facebook that he will reveal details of his detainment later.

Zhasaral Quanyshalin
Zhasaral Quanyshalin

The jailing of hunger strikers in Shymkent and Quanyshalin's detainment come as police in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic round up activists amid preparations to mark the day of the country's capital, Nur-Sultan, which is celebrated on July 6 each year to coincide with Nazarbaev's birthday.

Several activists have been handed jail terms of between 10 days and 20 days in recent weeks after Mukhtar Ablyazov, the DVK's leader, called on Kazakh citizens to stage a demonstration on July 6.

Kazakhstan changed the name of its capital to Nur-Sultan in 2019 to honor Nazarbaev, who ruled with an iron fist from the nation’s independence in 1991 until 2019. The renaming of the capital from Astana to Nur-Sultan sparked protests across the country at the time.

Nazarbaev continues to wield considerable influence as chairman of the Security Council and enjoys almost limitless powers as "elbasy" -- leader of the nation.

Under President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, who was handpicked by Nazarbaev, Kazakhstan continues to clamp down on freedom of speech and to harass opposition members.

Police last year detained dozens of journalists and bloggers and launched criminal cases for alleged crimes such as spreading false information and inciting the public, according to Adil Soz, a local media watchdog.

With reporting by RFE/RL's correspondent Dilara Isa and Qazaq Times

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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