Central Asian governments continue to clamp down on the Internet – I

By: vessy on 4 February 2008

The President of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, officially started his third presidential term on January 16, 2008. The outcome of the elections was of surprise to no one as there is no real opposition in the country. According to the President’s administration, the preparations to the elections and events on election day went “smoothly” (December 23, 2007). Nonetheless, according to international observers including OSCE the elections were neither free nor fair.

In spite of the formal separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution, Islam Karimov has concentrated power while remaining at his country’s helm for the past 16 years. The government has employed sophisticated mechanisms to monitor and control the Internet and has stifled conflicting political opinions. The number of blocked sites grew on January 16 according to Fergana.ru when Lenta.ru’s online article condemning Karimov’s third term in office was rendered unavailable for users in Uzbekistan (see ONI’s 2006 testing results). The Lenta.ru article asserts that Karimov’s third term is unconstitutional as the Uzbek Constitution allows for a maximum of two consecutive presidential mandates. Attempts to reach this Web site from with Uzbekistan are redirected to the home page of the popular Russian online news agency.

Blocking of Web sites in Uzbekistan is allegedly implemented following the orders of the state authorities on the basis of national security. The independent news agency Ferghana.ru published a detailed commentary on Karimov’s repressive policy and election campaign (here in Russian). However, this analysis remains inaccessible to most of the country’s users as Fergana.ru has been blocked in Uzbekistan for at least two years. The independent online news agency announces that a News.ru article that describes a recent decision to not purchase Uzbek cotton was blocked in the country. The article, quoting the BBC, alleges that the UK turned down the deal after learning that child labor was used for gathering cotton in Uzbekistan. Previous ONI research has determined that Uzbekistan maintains one of the most extensive and pervasive Internet filtering system in the CIS.