In today’s society, freedom of speech has become a fundamental right for every citizen. This right is not only enshrined in the national legislation but also protected by various international legal treaties and agreements.
In Uzbekistan, freedom of speech and press is a priority of the state’s policy. As the president of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoev noted, “ It is no secret that many officials on the ground do not like bitter and critical materials, distorting their peace and honesty. But transparency and freedom of speech is the demand of the era, this is the demand of reforms in Uzbekistan.”
It is well-known that freedom of speech is legally regulated in approximately 100 UN treaties, over 60 UNESCO treaties, more than 200 Council of Europe treaties, and more than 30 international conventions, declarations and international treaties of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
When examining the national legislation of the Republic of Uzbekistan, the new edition of Constitution also acknowledges the supremacy of generally accepted rules of international law. In other words, the constitutional rule in question indicates that the provision of human rights and freedoms, as well as protection, goes beyond being solely an internal matter of the state.
In this context, the significance of the decree of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan on June 16, 2021 “On Additional Measures to Ensure the Openness of the Activities of State Bodies and Organizations, as well as the Effective Implementation of Public Control” cannot be underestimated.
This decree has established a legal framework in Uzbekistan that allows for bold strides towards enhancing public control and ensuring freedom of information.
When we examine an important international document that guarantees freedom of speech and press, that is, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we find that its Article 19 states that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political rights defines the rule on freedom of speech and press as follows:
“Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”
In general, it ensures freedom of speech and press, the comprehensive development of the media, and, moreover, the creation of favorable conditions for free and transparent activities of journalists.
As an example, it is worth noting that a few years ago, punishments in the form of deprivation of liberty were abolished in accordance with the articles of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan regarding “libel or slander” and “defamation” through the media.
The right to access the internet falls within the scope of a person’s right to freedom of expression. This right encompasses the freedom to search for, obtain and disseminate various information and ideas, irrespective of the borders and forms of the state.
Today, Facebook Instagram, Facebook and Twitter can be cited as the most active among the mentioned networks in rapidly and actively reacting to the issues of Uzbek society. The analysis also observed increased activity in the .uz domain.
The Agency of Information and Mass Communications has established relationships with the 6 most popular social networking and hosting administrations. As a result, the agency sent 5,402 notifications against the spread of fake and illegal information.
More than 44 thousand cases of violations were identified based on letters, 30.8 thousand of the identified posts or comments were deleted.
We can safely say that one of the areas in which the Republic of Uzbekistan has experienced the most positive changes in recent years is the information sphere. Media and blogging have developed, ensuring openness and freedom of expression have become a priority in public policy.
The number of registered media in Uzbekistan increased by 41% from 2016 to 2023. If 1,514 media were registered in 2016, by 2023 this figure had grown to 2,140.
In particular, the number of registered journals has doubled (in 2016 – 309, in 2023 – 623), while the number of internet publications has increased by 88% (in 2016 – 395, in 2023 – 745).
Over the last 7 years, Uzbekistan has risen to 29 points in the World Press Freedom Index.
Additionally, the Agency of Information and Mass Communications has developed a draft Information Code consisting of 131 articles to systematically regulate the information sector.
The role of press services of organizations today is significant in promoting freedom of speech and fostering a space for dialogue between media outlets and ministries and departments.
In total, more than 280 offices of national importance, institutions, state and economic authorities, and information services were established for the first time in regional, district municipalities. Additionally, 98 state bodies and organizations were reorganized. The number of specialists working in the field of information services has increased from 433 until the resolution was made to almost 1,300+ today.
In addition, the analysis reveals that the number of critical materials/posts and responses of information services to them in the media and social networks are increasing from year to year.
For example, in 2019, information services responded to 83% of 559 criticisms, while by 2022 97% of 14.5 thousand criticisms were answered.
In addition, on September 28-29, an international conference on “Artificial Intelligence, Electronic Management and Freedom of Information” was organized in cooperation with the Agency of Information and Mass Communications and UNESCO. It was attended by more than 122 press secretaries.
Laws on freedom of information and proper dissemination of information are being adopted by the state and provided with conditions. It’s good of course, but we must first of all think ourselves, educate ourselves in the culture of information. To do this, we must constantly increase the level of media literacy of all informants, employees of ministries and departments. We need to explain the rights and responsibilities of users at the same time.
Today in the Republic of Uzbekistan, there may certainly be some shortcomings in the information industry, but continuous efforts to address mistakes and improve the system are leading to the development of the information sector and strengthening citizens’ rights to freedom of speech.