In recent years, freedom of expression in Central Asia has become increasingly restricted. The global pandemic further underscored the important role the internet and digital platforms play in supporting human rights movements and access to information. In this context, it is clear that autocratic regimes are repeatedly cracking down on the internet in order to quell activism in the region.
Governments in Central Asia have adopted a series of controversial laws allowing them to exert further control over online content and abuse existing legislation to force their critics into self-censorship. Vague provisions that criminalise insult or inciting hatred are weaponised to jail individuals for as little as a social media post. Journalists face legal action due to their critical coverage of the ruling political elite. Access to online resources including independent media outlets is regularly blocked without explanation or justification.
Meanwhile, all dissenting voices risk persecution often based on over-broad terrorism and extremism legislations that do not meet international standards.
Governments have put forward a multi-pronged strategy to impose rigid regulation on online environment which deepens the chilling effect on free expression in Central Asia.
On this page, you can find ARTICLE 19’s work analysing these growing challenges and advocating for robust protection of free expression online in the region.
Over the years, Kazakhstan has enacted a wide range of broad legislation with heavy sanctions that curtail freedom of speech online and hinder the work of journalists and human rights defenders. The law known as the “Law on cyberbullying”, which was presented as a means to protect children online, has opened the way for the extrajudicial blocking of online resources. In fact, independent media websites are often blocked without legal recourse to appeal. The overly broad and disproportionately used terrorism and ‘extremism’ legislation have become an all-too-common tool to silence opposition voices. Individuals publishing satirical content – in particular referring to high-ranking politicians – have been prosecuted for spreading disinformation. Members of the public are being arrested for ‘liking’ or reposting information on social media. Defamation laws compounded with provisions on revealing ‘investigations secrets’ are routinely used to threaten journalists covering public interest issues. Journalists are also a target of illegitimate surveillance.
ARTICLE 19 has repeatedly called for all ‘anti-extremist’ legislation in its current form to be repealed. The absolute and necessary minimum is to remove from the scope of the existing laws all forms of expression that do not constitute direct incitement to violence.
This report summarises and elaborates on key takeaways from the monitoring of digital rights violations in Kazakhstan conducted by ARTICLE 19’s partners on the ground throughout 2021 and in the first quarter of 2022. The research discusses the laws most commonly used to restrict free speech and puts forward recommendations for the authorities to safeguard the right to democratic participation online.
Despite Kyrgyzstan experiencing greater democratic freedoms than other Central Asian countries, the atmosphere for free speech is increasingly backsliding. Under the guise of tackling disinformation and hate speech, the authorities in Kyrgyzstan have stepped up their attempts to muzzle independent media and stifle discussion on issues of public interest. Online civic space has been marred by the rise in attacks and threats against journalists and controversial legislative reforms. The ‘false information’ law authorises an unspecified ‘state body’ to arbitrarily remove online content deemed ‘false’ or ‘inaccurate’. The overbroad provisions do not comply with international standards on freedom of expression and duplicate the defamation legislation that already exists. The alarming decline in freedom of expression is further exacerbated by the use of speech offences, including those on extremism and inciting hatred, to launch criminal investigations against journalists and other voices critical of the government. These concerning developments contribute to democratic backsliding in a country that was once perceived as a promising example of a diverse media environment in Central Asia.
This report summarises and elaborates on key takeaways from the monitoring of digital rights violations in Kyrgyzstan conducted by ARTICLE 19’s partners on the ground throughout 2021 and in the first quarter of 2022. We put forward recommendations on ensuring better human rights protection online, including reviewing the legal framework and problematic provisions. The aim of this report is to support the advocacy efforts of the local civil society.
Tajikistan has a long history of restricting political rights and civil liberties, with the government seeking to silence all voices critical of it. Over the last decade, the authorities have stepped up their crackdown on freedom of expression, including through heavy online censorship. Public officials show very low tolerance for criticism and encourage criminal prosecution of their critics. The authorities facilitate internet shutdowns and periodical blockage of social media networks and entire websites, especially during public protests. The independent media have been largely dismantled due to systemic repression and cases of harassment, intimidation, and unlawful imprisonment of journalists. The provisions of the Criminal Code that carry a prison sentence for speech-related offences such as incitement of terrorism, enmity or discord are broad and leave room for misuse and heavy combined sanction. Citizens are being penalised for disseminating information about protests online.
This report summarises and elaborates on key takeaways from the monitoring of digital rights violations in Tajikistan conducted by ARTICLE 19 with the support of partners throughout 2021 and in the first quarter of 2022. We analyse the government’s intrusion into internet infrastructure, the role of digital technologies in socio-political upheavals, and the ongoing crackdown on dissent for criticism online including through problematic speech-related provisions in the Criminal Code. The report includes a set of recommendations and is intended to support advocacy efforts as well as to serve as a guideline for the reform of media law and policy in the country.
While Uzbekistan has made positive steps to increase access to information in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, freedom of expression remains fragile and tightly restricted. Restrictions imposed on social networks severely hinder the free flow of information online.
Many journalists and bloggers reporting on matters of public interest face online smear campaigns or even judicial persecution, which increasingly forces them into self-censorship. In addition, a range of legislation does not meet international human rights standards as it includes overly broad provisions that limit freedom of expression beyond the scope permitted in international law. The Criminal Code is used to sanction valid criticism and quash opposition, with the insult against the president being a crime punishable by up to 5 years of imprisonment. The provisions on ‘false information’ carry heavy sanctions, while determining what is false is left to the discretionary power of law enforcement. Law enforcement abuses criminal offences such as fraud or extortion to silence government critics and suppress anti-corruption reporting. Key terms in the law on Informatisation are not precisely defined, which puts website owners in a difficult situation in terms of content moderation and may lead to the over-removal of content in order to avoid criminal sanctions.
This report summarises and elaborates on key takeaways from the monitoring of digital rights violations in Uzbekistan conducted by ARTICLE 19 with the support of partners throughout 2021 and in the first quarter of 2022. We examine restrictions on free speech online including harassment and legal threats against critical voices, breaching privacy online, or blocking website and social media content. The report includes a set of recommendations and is intended to support advocacy efforts as well as to serve as a guideline for the reform of media law and policy in the country.