Not long ago the website Kun.uz reported that the Uzbek Agency for Press and Information (API) intends to develop a by-law for the regulation of the activities of bloggers in Uzbekistan. If this document is adopted, blogs will be equated to the media and bloggers will need to have a license.
The Uzbek online publication Podrobno.uz attempted to contact the API to ask about the details of the document. The Agency responded that blogs in Uzbekistan are not media and blogging does not require a license. At the same time, the Agency did not deny the information about the by-law regulating the activity of bloggers. This means that you should not be surprised if in 2-3 months bloggers will be forced to either shut down or get a license.
But is blogging so popular in Uzbekistan that there is a need for legislation of their activities? I would not say so. Despite the fact that there are a number of popular blogs in Uzbek, these blogs are not popular among general readers. Therefore, I can safely say that today Uzbek blogs are not a threat to the state, and are not able to influence public opinion or mobilize the people against the government. Then why the law? As I see it, this is a precaution in connection with the events surrounding the popular Russian blogger Alexei Navalny. Many probably know that one of the leaders of the Russian opposition Alexei Navalny started his opposition activities just as a blogger, publishing materials with denunciations of corrupt officials. Gradually from a simple blogger, Mr. Navalny has turned into an opposition politician. Mass protests organized by Navalny and his supporters after the last parliamentary and presidential elections in Russia, made Putin’s government quite nervous. It seems that the Uzbek security services drew their conclusions from the activity of the blogger Navalny and want to insure against this occurring in Uzbekistan well in advance.
So let’s try to imagine what will happen if this regulatory document for bloggers is adopted. First, the state will have accurate information about the bloggers: names, number of bloggers, etc., making it easier to follow them. This means that it will be impossible to work under different nicknames. It will force bloggers to think a hundred time before publishing something. After all, today bloggers write about their views openly on their blogs relying on confidence that no one will know who they are and they will not be persecuted for their views. Thus, the content of blogs will be automatically controlled. Maybe blogging will not be subject to censorship in the same way other media is, but knowing the fate of freethinking journalists hardly anyone dares to risk it.
Over all, in Uzbekistan it is difficult to determine who can speak and what they can say. A good example is Uzmetronom.com, a website that regularly publishes stories critical of the government. Their editorial office is located in the center of Tashkent, everybody know the name of the author. Nevertheless, they are free to work at a time when a number of journalists are sitting in jails for less controversial publications. Because of this, many said that the website is close to the Uzbek security services.
I can report that Uzmetronom.com was temporarily closed, however, after receiving a warning from the military prosecutor’s office of Uzbekistan after the publication of an article about the border conflict on the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border. Sergei Ezhkov, the owner of Uzmetronom.com, said that he needed time out to think things through, but a few days ago the website reopened already and is continuing to publish critical materials.
In any case, the adoption of such a document, in my opinion, will be next blow to freedom of speech in Uzbekistan. If everything will go in that direction, in the near future you can expect–like some Twitter users were joking–laws regulating sexual relations between spouses.