Crossroads Asia

1 Amendment, Dozens of Arrests: How Uzbekistan Is Hounding Citizens Who Criticize the President

Recent Features

Crossroads Asia | Politics | Central Asia

1 Amendment, Dozens of Arrests: How Uzbekistan Is Hounding Citizens Who Criticize the President

Five years in jail for criticizing Mirziyoyev’s attending a military parade in Moscow, two and half for a vulgar comment on Instagram, seven for a derogatory poem.

1 Amendment, Dozens of Arrests: How Uzbekistan Is Hounding Citizens Who Criticize the President
Credit: Facebook / Shavkat Mirziyoyev

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev will again be a guest of honor at Moscow’s May 9 Victory Day military parade commemorating the 79th anniversary of victory in the European theater of World War II (1941-1945). Citizens of Uzbekistan have diverse opinions on their country’s relations with Russia, especially following the start of the Russia-Ukraine war in 2022. However, voicing dissent about the Uzbek president’s mingling with Putin is not for everyone.

Last year on May 8, D. Tursunov ( reported his name as Bakhodir Kurbanov) from Namangan posted a screenshot of the news about Mirziyoyev’s attendance at the military parade in Moscow and insulted the president for it. He also reportedly made “anti-state comments.” 

Last week he was given a five-year prison term.

The five-year sentence he received is not solely for slander. He was also accused of illegally crossing the Uzbek border. Tursunov reportedly left Uzbekistan in 2016 for Azerbaijan and from there, he traveled to Iran. At the time, Uzbek citizens were required to obtain an exit authorization sticker from the Interior Ministry’s visa and registration department (OVIR), a system that was abolished in 2019. He returned to Uzbekistan in 2023 after learning he was wanted by law enforcement. 

Tursunov’s case is not the first and judging by recent escalations, not likely to be the last. Any negative comment about Mirziyoyev and his family could be interpreted as an insult or slander under Article 158, paragraph 3 of the Criminal Code following 2021 amendments.

In 2021, Mirziyoyev signed a decree introducing several amendments to the Criminal Code, including the one that criminalizes online slander or insult of the president. The previous version of Article 158 only addressed public insults or slander against the president, particularly via press or other traditional media. The amendments extended this to include any online content, such as a blog or social media post, or even comments in any form such as text, photo, audio, or video that express insult or slander of the president. Previously, legislation also required a written claim either from the president or his representative, but the new amendments now allow for direct criminal liability. Punishment, however, remains the same: up to three years of correctional work, up to five years restriction of freedom, or imprisonment for up to five years. 

Bobur Bekmurodov, chairman of the national movement Yuksalish and a deputy of the Legislative Chamber of the Oliy Majlis, responded on his Telegram page to criticism from rights defenders and netizens regarding the amendments:

We are a presidential republic and the authority of the presidential institution is directly related to the authority of the state and the people. It should not be forgotten that according to the constitution, the presidency is an institution acting on behalf of the people of Uzbekistan, and the personality of the President is inviolable. That is, the President has constitutional status.

Following the amendments, arrests have grown in numbers. 

In 2022, then 31-year-old Sobirjon Boboniyozov from Khorezm was sentenced to three years in prison for reportedly uploading videos to a Telegram group that had insulting and defamatory content about Uzbekistan’s first president, Islam Karimov, and the current president, Mirziyoyev. In April 2022, a 53-year-old blogger was arrested for content on his YouTube and Facebook pages. He reportedly “misrepresented the reforms” under Mirziyoyev’s regime and spread “derogatory information” about the president. Later, the blogger was found mentally unsound and was sent to a psychiatric hospital in Samarkand for compulsory treatment. 

The law does not exempt even small comments left in the spur of a moment. In 2023, 19-year-old Dilshod Iskandarov was sentenced to 2.5 years imprisonment for a comment he left on an Instagram video titled “President’s family” while he was a labor migrant in Russia. The comment was later deleted by Iskandarov himself and was not fully disclosed in the media because it included profanity.

The Ministry of Justice’s experts found it “insulting and discrediting the president.” The court also found it necessary to block his Instagram account, and requested the Ministry of Digital Technologies do so.

At least two other people were punished for similar posts in 2023.

In January 2023, 27-year-old Utkirbek Sobirov from Fergana left a voice-note in a Telegram group, Telegramdagi “Qo‘qon metan gaz,” expressing his dissatisfaction with gas and electricity shortages. Uzbekistan had one of the worst energy crises in the winter of 2022-2023, with frequent black-outs, gas shortages, and bad heating. Sobirov expressed his dissatisfaction with the reforms and called on the Telegram group members to hold a public rally. For his voice-note, which the court decided had “signs of insulting the president,” Sobirov was sentenced to three years in prison.

Another case from 2023 also involved a Telegram voice comment – 30-year-old Ahrorbek Qo‘chqorov from Fergana received a four-year prison term.

In October 2023, a local court in Samarkand gave a five year and one month prison term to Bunyodjon Boboniyozov. On his Facebook page, Boboniyozev accused Mirziyoyev of supporting Putin in the Russia-Ukraine war, saying the president had been “sold to Putin.” 

The excerpts from his Facebook post presented in court read more as analytical rather than ignorant slander. He discussed how Russia would not have benefited if Rustam Azimov, who had more ties with the West, had become the president following Karimov’s death. Referencing rumors that the former president did not die naturally, Boboniyozev claimed, “When Karimov was killed, Patrushev’s Wagnerians were stationed in Tashkent, and if Mirziyoyev was not transferred to the throne, they threatened that there would be a scandal, and Rustam Azimov was not allowed [to run for the office],” according to the excerpt.

He was found guilty under Article 158.3, for insulting or slandering the president of Uzbekistan in public and Article 159 for violation of the constitutional system of the Republic of Uzbekistan.

The “golden age” of Mirziyoyev’s rule lasted a couple of years after he rose to office. His initial set of reforms and promising commitments, especially in relation to freedom of expression, made him popular domestically, and authoritarian Uzbekistan more palatable to the West. As the years passed by, the illusion faded and people started voicing their dissatisfaction with his rule. Criminalizing insults against the president was one measure taken to suppress such voices. The arrests stemming from the amendments, such as those mentioned above, set an example to others, instilling fear and discouraging any negative speech.

2024 has been particularly difficult for those who want to express their dissatisfaction with the president in one way or another. UzNews reported nine such cases, including the arrest of a 60-year-old woman from Fergana. She was sentenced to three years for insulting the president and accusing Shukhrat Ganiev, a deputy adviser to the president, of fraud and corruption.

Some have even been arrested for comments they made before the 2021 amendments. This January, a 29-year-old social media user received a four-year prison term from a  local court in Jizzakh. He reportedly left a comment insulting the president and his mother on a TikTok video in June 2020. 

The longest prison term so far for insulting the head of the state was given to a man from Fergana whose name has not been reported. Uznews reported on May 1 that the man was given seven years of imprisonment in February for publishing several videos on his Facebook page that insulted the president. He also allegedly published a derogatory poem.

How law enforcement finds theses posts and comments and identifies people behind the social media accounts posting them remains unclear. Dilshod Iskandarov, for example, commented from his Instagram account with an obscure handle – @dilshod_oke9377. Bunyodjon Boboniyozov also did not use his real name. His Facebook profile name was Boboniyoz Ahmad. The police most likely use phone numbers attached to social media pages to track down the account’s true owner. Tursunov had a Facebook page with the name Muhammad Sanjar. He had been in Tehran for a couple of years when he posted his thoughts about Mirziyoyev’s visit to Moscow. 

In his Telegram rant, Yuksalish’s Bekmurodov noted that everyone’s honor has a high value and “administrative responsibility is established for insulting and slandering anyone, regardless of their position, and criminal responsibility is provided for committing these actions in aggravating circumstances.”

In practice, however, the only aggravating circumstance appears to be the president’s name.