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Uzbekistan Urged To Repeal New Legislation Further Restricting Online Speech

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev has since positioned himself as a reformer since coming to power in 2016, but many activists say the changes have not gone nearly far enough.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is urging Uzbekistan to repeal recent legal amendments that the group says "deepen restrictions" on online speech ahead of a planned presidential election.

"As October's presidential elections in Uzbekistan grow closer, authorities seem intent on strengthening their control over free expression with this new raft of legislative amendments," Gulnoza Said, CPJ's Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, said in a statement on April 28.

"If Uzbek authorities want the world to believe they are genuinely attempting to conduct liberal reforms, they should repeal these laws, which limit press freedom and threaten fines and imprisonment for those who report critically," she added.

Amendments to the country's Criminal Code, Administrative Code, and information law went into force on March 31 following their approval by President Shavkat Mirziyoev.

The changes introduce prison sentences for crimes such as insulting or defaming the president online and making online calls for "mass disturbances." They also make it an offense to publish statements online calling on people to violate the law and threaten public order, or show "disrespect" to the state.

Uzbekistan is scheduled to hold a presidential election on October 24 in which Mirziyoev is expected to run for a second term.

The president took over as head of Central Asia's most populous state after authoritarian leader Islam Karimov's death was announced in September 2016.

Mirziyoev has since positioned himself as a reformer, releasing political prisoners and opening his country to its neighbors and the outside world, although many activists say the changes have not gone nearly far enough.

Although Mirziyoev has said he is not against having opposition political groups in Uzbekistan, it has been nearly impossible for genuine opposition parties to get registered since the country gained independence in late 1991.

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