Uzbekistan's President Shavkat Mirziyoyev arrives in China for a summit in June 2018. In recent weeks, police in several Uzbek cities arrested bloggers who cover religious issues. (Pool via Reuters/Wu Hong)
Uzbekistan's President Shavkat Mirziyoyev arrives in China for a summit in June 2018. In recent weeks, police in several Uzbek cities arrested bloggers who cover religious issues. (Pool via Reuters/Wu Hong)

Uzbekistan arrests at least four bloggers over posts on religious issues

New York, September 6, 2018–The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on Uzbek authorities to end their harassment of bloggers covering religious issues, and to release at least four individuals arrested for their writing. Police in several Uzbek cities made arrests between August 28 and September 4, according to media reports.

The detained bloggers write commentary on social and religious issues, often advocating for a greater role of Islam in society, according to reports and local bloggers with whom CPJ spoke. Nearly all primarily post content on Facebook, according to reports. Because of limitations on the independent press in Uzbekistan, Facebook is the main platform used by bloggers in the country.

Under the rule of the late President Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan had tight control over Islam and prosecuted Muslims who practiced religion outside the state-controlled mosques. After Karimov’s death in September 2016, Uzbekistan released dozens of political prisoners, according to Human Rights Watch. Following the May 2018 release of journalists Bobomurod Abdullaev and Khayot Nasriddinov, no journalists were imprisoned in the country for their work for the first time in two decades, according to CPJ’s research.

“Uzbekistan’s round up of bloggers signals that the country is not serious about improving the environment for press freedom,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia research associate. “Authorities should release the detained bloggers and ensure that journalists are allowed to comment freely on issues important to Uzbek society.”

The prosecutor general’s spokesperson, Surayyo Rahmonova, did not respond to CPJ’s telephone inquiry on the recent arrests.

Police on August 28 detained Adham Olimov and searched his Tashkent apartment, according to the independent Uzbek news site, Kun. The following day, a court sentenced Olimov to 15 days’ administrative arrest on charges of resisting police, and fined him 184,300 soums (around US$24), according to the same report. His brother, Shohruh Olimov, told the Uzbek Service of the U.S. Congress-funded Voice of America that the blogger was handed down the court verdict despite not having access to a lawyer or appearing before a judge. Shohruh Olimov said police took his brother’s cell phone and a laptop as well as phones, computers, and hard drives belonging to other family members.

The most recent posts by Olimov, a blogger known as Musannif Adham to his 5,600 Facebook followers, were critical of a ban on hijabs in schools. He also criticized the authorities’ past treatment of Muslims and called for the resignation of presidential advisers who have been in charge of religious affairs since Karimov’s rule.

Tashkent authorities on August 28 detained Ziyodulla Kabirov, a blogger and religious scholar known as Ziyovuddin Rahim, and sentenced him to 10 days’ administrative arrest on similar charges a day later and fined him 184,300 soums (around US$24), Kun reported. Kabirov, who posted his content on Facebook and to his Telegram channel that has 3,600 subscribers, wrote about Islamic issues. In recent posts, he criticized presidential advisers and government bans on women wearing hijabs and men growing beards.

On August 30, police in the eastern city of Andijan detained Otabek Usmanov from an automotive plant, where he works. Usmanov, who writes commentary for the local religious website Azon, was sentenced the following day to 15 days’ administrative arrest, according to the Uzbek Service of the U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. The report did not specify the accusations against the blogger. His recent work for Azon included commentary on a hijab ban and religious education for children.

On September 2, police detained Khurshidbek Muhammadroziqov in Kokand, in the country’s east, according to two members of a private bloggers group on the messaging app Telegram, who spoke with CPJ on condition of anonymity for safety reasons. The members told CPJ that Muhammadroziqov’s whereabouts were unknown. Muhammadroziqov, who writes articles and commentary on local media sites, was recently critical of the government’s transition to the Latin alphabet and educational reforms. Muhammadroziqov also appeared on the weekly TV show “Bloggers Club,” broadcast on the state TV channel Manaviyat va Marifat (Morality and Education), in which bloggers comment on current issues.

The local human rights group, Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Defenders, shared a list with CPJ of bloggers that it says police detained. The list did not specify the accusations against the individuals or when they were arrested.

The rights group said that police briefly detained Shokir Sharipov, known as Muhammad Shakur, on August 25. Dilshodbek Halilov, Iskandar Sadirov, Erkin Sulaymonov, Turabek Boymirzayev and Miraziz Ahmedov are still in detention, and Tulkin Astanov was released yesterday after 10 days’ administrative arrest, according to the group and local news sites. CPJ is investigating the cases to determine if they were detained for their blog posts.