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Uzbekistan: Slipping Through the Net

By News Briefing Central Asia

Despite massive efforts by Uzbekistan’s secret service to stop people looking at independent news on the internet, web users still find ways to get round the blocks.

One 27-year-old in the capital Tashkent said she used proxy servers, which allow users to access blocked sites, on a daily basis to read material from the Fergana and Centrasia resources in Russia, Radio Liberty, Deutsche Welle, Eurasianet and Uznews.

“The reality we see from living here doesn’t correspond to what they write on the government web portals,” she explained. “So we go around the blocks and read independent material."

A student in the same city said he too used proxy servers, putting up with their occasional slow speed.

"I’m interesting in objective news about politics," he said. "I get round web censorship to find out the truth."

In the region of 40 websites are blocked by Uzbekistan’s “virtual censors” – mostly news sites that cover events in the country, plus those run by human rights and opposition groups abroad.

The authorities have recently started applying temporary blocks, so that a websites might be unavailable for a time, and then accessible. One local web expert checked a range of sites and found that some, like Voice of America, the BBC and IWPR’s own site, could again be seen inside Uzbekistan after a period in which they were blocked.

Last year’s Arab Spring revolutions, and web discussions of their implications for Central Asia, led to many internet sites being partially or wholly blocked. (See Tashkent Spooked by Web Interest in Arab Protests and Uzbeks Denounce "Destructive" Web .)

Official responses showed that the government was keenly aware that of the web’s influence on young people in particular. Eight out of ten internet users in Uzbekistan are under 30, with one in three of the total population now said to have access to the web.

Proxy sites, “anonymising” software and the like are now in fairly common use.

A student from Karshi in southwest Uzbekistan said that while some young people used this technology fearlessly, others were too afraid of being caught by the secret police to do so.

Freedom on the Net 2012, the annual survey produced by the Washington-based group Freedom House, says online censorship got worse in Uzbekistan last year, and the country remains listed among the 14 worst “enemies of the internet”. 

This article was produced as part of News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.

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