Sarvarbek Abdullaev

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Uzbekistan has made significant progress in speech freedom over the past 5-6 years. Since Shavkat Mirziyoyev became the President, journalists and bloggers have become more active. This and similar efforts resulted in Uzbekistan going up several places on the Freedom of Speech index. Despite this, pressure on journalists has not stopped totally. There have been cases of articles being deleted from websites, officials using their positions to pressure journalists. These and similar pressures have raised the issue of liability for harassment of journalists.

International indices

According to the world-famous website (Reporters without borders), which gives information about countries’ freedom rating, Uzbekistan has risen from 157th place in 2021 to 133rd in 2022 in terms of free speech (it was 166th in 2016). Other Central Asian countries, including Turkmenistan 177th, Kazakhstan 122nd and Tajikistan 152nd. While Uzbekistan’s position is better than that of some Central Asian countries, taking into account the goals set by Uzbekistan in this regard, it is still not satisfactory.  

Article 67 of the Constitution

Chapter XV of the Constitution of the Republic of Uzbekistan is called “Mass Media” and consists of one article:

“The media is free and operates in accordance with the law. They are responsible for the accuracy of the information in the prescribed manner. Censorship is not allowed.”

It is a short, concise and clear article. Nevertheless, there is no law necessary for the practical application of this article. Even if the Constitution prohibits censorship, there is no administrative and criminal liability for this. For instance, article 77 of the Danish Constitution, country, which ranks highin terms of freedom of speech, contains a similar article to ours: “Any person shall be entitled to publish his thoughts in printing, in writing, and in speech, provided that he may be held answerable in a court of justice. Censorship and other preventive measures shall never again be introduced”. Different from Uzbekistan, Denmark adopted a responsibility for censorship. That is, Denmark not only prohibits censorship at the constitutional level, but also defines responsibility for it. In my personal opinion, the main reason for the high freedom of speech in Denmark is that there is a responsibility for censorship and it works in practice.

Legal amendments

There were a number of projects to add administrative and criminal liability to break journalists’ rights.

First, in August 2019, it was proposed to add a new article 197-5 to the Code “On Administrative Liability” with the following content:

Obstructing a journalist’s lawful professional activities, failure to provide information (documents) to his / her request, untimely submission or deliberately obstructing the provision of false or misleading information, as well as harassment of a journalist, interference in his journalistic activities – shall be punishable by a fine of one to three times the minimum wage for citizens, and five to ten times the minimum wage for officials.

It was gratifying to include such a rule in the Code of Administrative Liability, but why was the fine so low? For information, in August 2019, the minimum wage at that time was 223,000 UZS (roughly 20$). Even if the maximum fine was set by the court for citizens, the fine would be 669,000 UZS. This is obviously a small amount for pressuring the journalists. For comparison, the minimum fine for defamation and insult is 20 times the base calculation amount, while the fine for tinting car windows without a proper license is 25 times the base calculation amount.

Second, on February 19, 2020, the draft law “On Amendments and Addenda to the Law on Mass Media” was announced. The draft provided for liability for violations of media freedom. According to the draft, obstruction of the lawful activities of public associations, editorial offices, media outlets, as well as journalists; censorshipillegal interference in the activities of the editorial office and violation of its freedom of specialization; violation of the editorial right to request and receive information; forcing a journalist to disseminate or refuse to disseminate information can be qualified as a violation of media freedom.

It was warmly welcomed by the public. Because it was true that the various pressures mentioned above sometimes really prevented journalists from working freely. Nevertheless, the draft was not approved and no explanation was given regarding this.

Third, on February 22, 2021, the Prosecutor General’s Office announced a new version of the draft Criminal Code, which provides for criminal liability for interference in the legitimate activities of a journalist – a long-awaited news for the media. According to the draft, to obstruct a journalist’s lawful activities shall be punishable by a fine of 50 to 100 times the basic calculation amount, or up to 3 years of restriction of liberty, or up to 3 years of imprisonment. 

This draft, which was expected to be included in the Criminal Code, was well prepared and actual. The draft Code gave hope that the sanctions would be more severe and that there would eventually be a change in this matter. Because if this article was included in the code, even the officials would be afraid to restrict the legal activities of journalists due to the severe punishment. After all, no one would have wanted to put pressure on a journalist and be sentenced to 3 years in prison or pay a large fine. 

The imposition of criminal liability for harassment of journalists would have served to liberalize the system, which is considered the fourth power in the constitutional separation of powers. Nevertheless, none of these projects is reflected in the current legislation. The above projects have remained as propositions.

Liability for pressure on journalists in CIS countries.

The CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States, i.e. post-soviet countries) states are legally and economically close to each other. Therefore, it would be better to look at the legislation of the Commonwealth of Independent States due to many similarities with Uzbekistan’s. 

According to Russian Criminal Code, obstructing the legitimate professional activities of journalists by forcing them to disseminate or refrain from disseminating information shall be punishable by one of the following: a fine of up to 80.000 ruble (15.000.000 UZS); a fine of up to six months’ salary; other income shall be punishable by a fine; up to 360 hours of compulsory public work or up to one year of correctional labor. In addition, Code of Administrative Offenses of the Russian Federation establishes administrative liability for obstructing the legal distribution of media materials.

According to Criminal Code of Belarus, obstructing a journalist in any way or forcing him or her to disseminate information, threatening to violate their rights and legitimate interests – shall be punishable by a fine or deprivation of the right to hold certain positions or engage in certain activities, or by restriction of liberty for up to three years, or by imprisonment for the same period. 

In Kazakhstan, violating the rights of journalists and putting pressure on them will result in a fine from 318,000 to 636,000 tenge (7.200.000 – 14.400.000 UZS)  or other types of liability. As for the laws of neighboring Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, they also have criminal liability for censorship.                        

Importance of free speech

In order to improve the democratic status of the country, to achieve better results in the international arena and to cooperate with many countries, the freedom of speech should be fully ensured in the country. 

In the following example, we can see importance of free mass-media clearly: Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin used 850 euros of public money a month for her and her family’s breakfast. As a result of the journalists’ investigation, the citizens demanded her resignation. Here the journalists inquired how much money one of the highest officials of the country spent on breakfast and were able to publish it in the press. As a result, the minister stated that she is ready to return these funds to the budget. This is the reason why Finland is one of the most democratic countries in the world.

In Uzbekistan also, there were cases where public opinion represented in mass media could persuade an amendment to existing rules and regulations. For instance, the amount of fines for tinting car windows was dramatically reduced after the constant criticism in mass media. Another example is the fine on entrepreneurs for not giving the receipt to customers. The penalty was quite a significant amount and did considerable damage to small businesses for such a small mistake. As a result of public opinion represented in mass media, the penalty is reduced, and only a warning is issued for the first mishap. There are a number of other examples and most importantly, they show how important freedom of speech really is.

From the above it is clear that mass media has huge impact on political and social life. Free mass media acts as a “mirror” to the government and shows its mistakes. The democratic status of the country is determined based on the freedom of speech, the provision of human rights and the existence of an independent judicial system. So, the adoption of punishment for censorship is essential for the development of the country. 


Liability for pressure on journalists in Uzbekistan should be in line with international practice, and the author argues that such responsibility will serve to liberalize journalism and reduce pressure on them. While censorship is prohibited in Constitution, it is not sufficiently expressed in other important legal acts. In order to apply this Constitutional norm into practice, these words should find their detailed expression in a statute. To achieve this goal, censorship and all its kinds should be defined clearly, and administrative and criminal liability should be established for obstructing free journalism. Officials should be punished more severely for such actions. Because they can use their official authority to put pressure on the press and this is certainly an abuse of official authority. To be precise, administrative responsibility should be established and the amount of the fine should be high. Criminal liability should be established or officials who engage in crimes against journalists repeatedly.

Cite as:  Sarvarbek Abdullaev, “’Pressure on journalists. Why is it essential to establish liability for this?”, Uzbekistan Law Blog, 11.09.2022.