Uzbekistan’s rating on the World Internet Freedom Index has improved by 1 score in a report by U.S.-based watchdog Freedom House announced.
The annual survey ranks 65 countries against a 100-point scale — with higher scores equalling a greater degree of Internet censorship.
Internet users are classified as “free,” “not free” or “partially free” based on criteria such as rights violations and countrywide Internet access.
Uzbekistan now ranks 57th, with a score which technically improved, from 26 in 2019 to 27 in 2020 — “saw a slight opening of the space for free expression online,” according to the report. While its scores remain low and online expression tightly controlled, there have been some efforts at liberalization. Importantly, a bevvy of websites that have long been unofficially blocked have been unblocked. And while some topics — for example forced labor in the cotton industry — are receiving greater and more open coverage in Uzbek media, other subjects remain taboo or subject to pressure if raised.
During the coverage period, Uzbekistan registered “another incremental increase” in internet freedom, its fourth consecutive improvement in its Freedom on the Net score, the report said.
Access rates in the country continued to grow, although authorities have not loosened their grip over the information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure, despite pledging to do so. In a welcome move, the government unblocked another tranche of websites in December 2019, although it also moved to impose new restrictions on bloggers, perhaps out of recognition that an ever-increasing number of citizens consume news from independent Telegram channels and other social media platforms. Citizens continued to face legal and extrajudicial consequences for their online activities, as evinced by March 2020 revelations that journalists and human rights defenders had been the targets of a sophisticated phishing campaign.
While ongoing reforms under President Shavkat Mirziyoyev have led to improvements on some issues, including a modest reduction in media repression and reforms that mandated more female legislative candidates, Uzbekistan remains an authoritarian regime with little movement toward democratization.