Sukhrobjon Ismoilov, director of the Expert Working Group (Uzbekistan) has distributed a report by the Expert Working Group on new restrictions on Internet for the Uzbek youth. The group finds out, in particular, that in an attempt to win the hearts of the youth in the face of so called “mass culture” and also under the influence of “the Arab Spring” events the Uzbek authorities have lately taken several measures for intensifying control over internet users and similar communication technologies, including mobile phones.
In April this year the Uzbek Ministry of Higher and special secondary education adopted a special decree introducing restrictions on students of the academic lyceums and colleges for visiting local internet cafes. Under the new decree the administrations of lyceums and colleges now have to control and monitor visits of their students to local internet cafes in the territory of local mahallas (mahalla is the smallest administrative-territorial unit in urban and rural areas in Uzbekistan – the Expert Working Group). Teachers of the local lyceums and colleges are assigned to a special schedules approved by their administrations according to which they have to go on duties to sit at the local internet cafes in shifts from 9.00 a.m. until 20.00 p.m. Those teachers are forced to cancel their classes and private life issues during their duties at the internet cafes and check on who of their students is attending this internet cafe. In case they see any of their students at the internet cafe they demand the internet cafe administration to block the access to internet for this student and tell the student to leave the internet cafe immediately. The government decree also obliges the teachers to report the results of their inspection to the local departments of special secondary education on daily basis until 20.00 p.m.
The Uzbek officials claim such measures are necessary for improving attendance of the lyceums and colleges by the students which represents another thoroughly covered but serious problem in the national system of education. After finishing studies at the obligatory general secondary school (a nine-grade education – the Expert Working Group) all Uzbek youth are obliged to attend the next level of a three-year education – either at the lyceum or college (youth between 17 and 19 years old – the Expert Working Group). The social-economic problems most Uzbek families are facing make the lyceum and college students get involved in assisting their parents in the household, family business and even leave for a labor migration abroad. Therefore as a rule half of the lyceum and college students in Uzbekistan regularly miss their classes and merely buy out their points and diplomas. Thus the Uzbek authorities’ attempt to improve the lyceum and college attendance by restricting visits of their students to the local internet cafes doesn’t make much sense.
Some observers think the new restrictions of the access of the Uzbek youth to internet cafes are meant to protect them from the products of so called “mass culture” and different materials of religious extremist character.
Shahnoza, a young teacher at one of the colleges in Tashkent shares her impressions: “Beginning May they have established duties for all teachers at our college to inspect all internet cafes around our college. Each day three to four teachers have to inspect the local internet cafes. At the same time nobody has canceled our classes which means we have to do both: inspect the internet-cafes and at the same time deliver our classes. As we were told this measure means to improve the attendance of the students at the college. But it doesn’t make a sense. I think it is not related to the improving of attendance of classes but aims at preventing dissemination of mass culture among the youth”.
Diyor, a third-year lyceum student also commented on the situation: “Truly speaking I am facing problems with visiting the local internet-cafes lately. Even if I go to the internet cafe after my classes my teachers are always there checking who of the students are coming there to use internet. They wouldn’t allow me to use internet. I can use the internet cafe only after 21.00 p.m. when my teachers are gone home. I need internet most of all for reading interesting news and chatting with my friends who work abroad. Now I am thinking of connecting to internet from home which is considerably expensive for my family”.
According to Sukhrobjon Ismoilov, the leader of the Expert Working Group, the Uzbek authorities are acting in their usual ways: “The policy of the Uzbek authorities on developing internet is full of contradictions and dictated by the hidden complexes of the Uzbek government officials who are far from internet and informational technologies. On one hand the authorities have always talked about growing numbers of internet users, achievements of the UZ domain area, introduction of internet based technologies into the national system of education, promoting internet as an important instrument of search for information and communication. The Uzbek officials have also regularly organized national and international conferences on developing internet sector of the country. And on the other hand the Uzbek authorities have kept introducing new restrictions on internet and its users. Blocking “unwanted” websites, and what is even more absurd blocking anonymizers and proxy programs, creation of special government commissions for censoring the content of the local internet sector, closing several websites from the UZ domain area for allegedly illegal content – all these steps indicate a serious fear of the Uzbek authorities about allowing free access to internet".
The Uzbek authorities have been lately increasing public demonstration of government ordered documentaries on central TV channels “Uzbekiston” and “Yoshlar” which describe negative aspects of internet and using internet for dissemination of “mass culture damaging national mentality and spirituality”, religious extremism, drugs, pornography, violence and prostitution. On 8 May 2010 the Uzbek parliament adopted amendments to the Administrative Code which brought to increasing administrative punishment for unsanctioned attendance of the public places, including internet cafes by minors.
In April of the current year the Expert Working Group reported about several arrests of young Uzbeks charged with religious extremism for allegedly watching, listening to Islamic sermons and lectures using their mobile phones and keeping, transferring and distribution of such
materials by mobile phones. The authorities have increased raids checking personal mobile phones of citizens and private stores which record different multimedia to mobile phones.
On 21 May of the current year the Uzbek Cabinet of Ministers adopted a Decree “On measures of regulating utilization of mobile phones in educational facilities of the Republic of Uzbekistan”. This Decree has approved a special set of the Rules on the order of utilization of mobile telephones in educational facilities. This document is binding for both government and non-governmental educational facilities and touches the pupils, students and personnel of the educational facilities.
Under the Rules the while entering the educational facility each pupil, student, personnel, visitor and other persons have to turn their mobiles phones to a silent mode. It is strictly prohibited to hang on the mobile phones on the neck, keeping them in the pockets or shirts, trousers and skirts. It is also prohibited to charge the mobile phones using the educational facility’s electricity. The pupils and students can’t demonstrate video and photo materials from their mobile phones which promote violence, cruelty and pornography and damages the image of the educational facility. They can’t record and demonstrate scenes of violence and vandalism using their mobile phones. During the classes the pupils and students can’t send SMS, MMS and other types of messages using their mobile phones, can’t put their mobile phones on the desk, listen to the music, including listening to the music using headphones, watch video and photo, play games, use the mobile phone as a Dictaphone, calculator, calendar, note pad, etc. It is as well prohibited to make photos and videos and use other mobile services through mobile phones (GPRS, Bluetooth, internet and others).
Teachers and other personnel of the educational facilities are not entitled to use their mobile phones during classes. They should also try to minimize using their mobile phones during free hours in the presence of the pupils and students. The pupils who fail to follow the above mentioned regulations shall be liable to the following types of punishment: official warning; making an official notice in the academic diary of the pupil or student; informing and summon of the parents to an official meeting with the administration of the educational facility. Those students who violate the restrictions shall be punished under the Internal Regulations of their universities and institutes. In case of failure to follow restrictions by the pupils and students any teacher shall have the power to seize the mobile phone, write an official report on the violation of the restrictions and submit this report together with the seized mobile phone to the dean or a deputy director of the educational facility. The seized mobile phone and the official report on the violation of the restrictions shall be further submitted to the parents (for the schoolchildren) and supervisors (for the students) with issuance of an official warning. Each case of violation of the restrictions shall be subject to a special discussion by the Commission headed by the director (dean) of the educational facility, and attended by the class supervisor, parents (or persons substituting the parents) and parents’ committee.
Internet remains as one of the least available space relatively free for searching, distribution and exchange of information for a multi-million population of Uzbekistan. Very often unfortunately the Uzbek authorities attack liberalism, democracy, freedom of speech and expression and other universally recognized values while targeting “mass culture”, “alien ideas” and “extremism”. Therefore the existing government policy almost in all spheres of life demonstrates an impudent hypocrisy: while stressing a healthy way of life the Uzbek government clamps down NGOs which work on drugs and AIDs prevention or imprison the activists of such organizations; pointing out to a negative consequence of “mass culture” the Uzbek officials ignore the fact that today “the mass culture” has turned into an undivisible part of mankind and the Uzbek mass media is rich with products of the mass culture. The officials also forget that each person has a free choice and right to make an informed decision. Having promised about abolition of censorship and restrictions on internet space the Uzbek government in reality retains censorship and tends to censor even the internet sector.