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Uzbek Man Jailed for Social Media Posts Criticizing Mirziyoyev for Supporting Russia’s Putin

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Uzbek Man Jailed for Social Media Posts Criticizing Mirziyoyev for Supporting Russia’s Putin

Bunyodjon Boboniyozov was given a five-year sentence under criminal charges related to insulting the president and posing a threat to the constitutional order.

Uzbek Man Jailed for Social Media Posts Criticizing Mirziyoyev for Supporting Russia’s Putin
Credit: Depositphotos

Another Uzbek has been sentenced to jail time – five years and one month – for violating Articles 158 of the country’s criminal code, namely provisions pertaining to insulting the president. He was also charged with threatening the constitutional order for an alleged association with the banned Erk (Freedom) party.

Bunyodjon Boboniyozov, a 38-year-old described by RFE/RL as a “social media user,” was sentenced by the Kattakurgan District Court in Samarkand region almost three months after his conviction. Boboniyozov – allegedly posting on Facebook under the name “Boboniyaz Ahmad” – lambasted Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev as being a supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In an October 29, 2022 post cited in court documents, he allegedly accused Mirziyoyev of “selling out to Putin” and in another post on January 13, 2023 wrote “[Mirziyoyev] and his clan are supporting Putin’s war against Ukraine.” The posts make mention of energy shortages in Uzbekistan and generally convey deep discontent with the Mirziyoyev government.

Uzbekistan’s criminal code has long been criticized by human rights groups. As in this case, Articles 158 and 159, among others, are often weaponized against regime opponents but in an arbitrary fashion, which makes it difficult to determine what counts as an insult or a call to overthrow the constitutional order, and what counts as legitimate political speech. It’s unclear from the available reporting whether Boboniyozov had any kind of significant following, but it is clear that Tashkent is sensitive about commentaries on the country’s relations with Russia, energy matters, and the president’s family.

RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, known as Ozodlik, highlighted a few other cases from the past year in which individuals have been jailed for social media posts touching on these sensitive topics, including 19-year-old Dilshod Iskandarov (sentenced to two and a half years), 27-year-old O’tkirbek Sobirov (sentenced to three years), and 30-year-old Ahrorbek Kochkarov (sentenced to four years of house arrest).

Ozodlik also noted that while court documents state that Boboniyozov was arrested in April 2023, they don’t specify how or when he arrived in Uzbekistan from Russia, where he had reportedly lived for some time.

Uzbekistan has, in recent years, undergone a tremendous transformation with million of citizens coming online. As Niginakhon Saida noted in a 2022 article focused on the Islamic revival online in Uzbekistan:

The  number of individual internet users increased from just 7,500 in 2000 to 27.2 million in 2022 (Uzbekistan’s total population is estimated to be around 35.6 million). Although most users, especially in rural areas, rely on mobile internet (over 22 million users), reportedly 54 percent of the households are connected to high-speed internet. 

Mirziyoyev’s coming to power in 2016 coincided with this digital boom, and in the early years of his regime bloggers were encouraged to engage both government and citizens in open discussion. As Umida Niyazova of the Uzbek Forum for Human Rights wrote in an op-ed last year:

Undoubtedly, with Mirziyoyev’s coming to power in 2016, the scope of permitted criticism of the government was expanded, perhaps one of most positive changes in the “New Uzbekistan.” Simultaneously, with the development of social media, hundreds of popular bloggers and citizen reporters emerged, who became important critical voices in their communities.

In her article Niyazova sketched out a variety of legal troubles experienced by Uzbek bloggers, many focused on thorny issues related to corruption. “Today, although there is much more freedom of speech compared to the Karimov era, these ongoing attacks on bloggers and civil society activists show an alarming deteriorating dynamic.” 

With Boboniyozov, the list of Uzbek citizens punished for the things they’ve written online continues to grow.