Uzbekistan’s state media has been extremely careful covering the war in Ukraine, describing the conflict as a Russian “military operation” and refraining from calling it an “invasion” or “aggression.”
Independent publications and bloggers, meanwhile, have been warned by security services to be “very neutral” and to exercise “restraint” when writing about the war.
Several Uzbek bloggers and journalists who have written extensively about it since it began on February 24 said they came under state pressure because of their work.
Some of them claim they were interrogated by intelligence officers, while others were ordered to delete some of their work.
One blogger told RFE/RL on condition of anonymity that he was summoned by the State Security Services on February 28.
“They told me: ‘This is a very sensitive topic therefore you must be very neutral in your coverage of these events,’” he said.
By being “neutral,” authorities want the journalists to refrain from criticizing Russia, a major strategic partner of Uzbekistan.
Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev and his government have not publicly condemned Russia’s unprovoked war.
A Telegram channel Haqiqat Vazirligi (truth ministry) wrote on March 2 that the government wants Uzbek media to follow the official line.
“Journalists and bloggers who cover this topic ‘incorrectly’ have been summoned by authorities to the State Security Service’s detention facility on Tashkent’s Gvardeyskaya Street, where they receive ‘recommendations’ on how to cover these events,” Haqiqat Vazirligi wrote.
Among those who were called by the security agency were editors and managers of the popular kun.uz online publication. They were interrogated on February 26.
“It’s not cool to be called to Gvardeyskaya on a Saturday,” Umid Shermuhammedov, a founder of kun.uz, wrote on social media. “They summoned one of our correspondents, one of my deputies, then my business partner, and now they’re waiting for me.”
Shermuhammedov said the authorities couldn’t initially reach him because he wasn’t in the city at the time.
Shermuhammedov added that he “hoped it will only be the usual prophylactic chat,” referring to Uzbek officials' practice of warning independent journalists against writing on a certain topic that does not sit well with the authoritarian government.
“But if I disappear for a day or two -- well, that’s [because] freedom of speech is barely standing on its feet,” he added.
Shermuhammedov later deleted his post and neither he nor kun.uz has since mentioned their conversations with the security officers.
But RFE/RL sources say during the interrogation at the State Security Service offices kun.uz received a warning regarding its coverage of the conflict in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, several articles on the war in Ukraine have disappeared from Uzbek media sites.
One such article was on daryo.uz that reported about how Uzbeks were laying flowers near the Ukrainian Embassy in Tashkent to show their solidarity with the Ukrainian people. Daryo.uz didn’t say why it removed the report it published on February 26. But the story reappeared on the site late on March 8.
RFE/RL tried to contact officials in Tashkent for comment but didn’t receive a response.
Both state and independent media’s coverage of the war in Ukraine is now limited to carefully worded news of evacuations of Uzbeks from the war zone, certain aspects of the international sanctions on Russia, such as the fall of the ruble and its impact on Central Asia, and reports on the international package of financial aid for Ukraine.
The Uzbek media also occasionally shares photos from international news agencies depicting scenes from Ukraine.