Uzbekistan, Central Asia’s most populous nation, is imposing stricter laws against inciting to violence. As the new potential punishments are significantly increased just eight months before presidential elections, human rights watchdogs have described them as a potential method to limit freedom of speech and assembly.
Under the new laws, people found guilty of what the authorities label public calls for riots and violence against citizens, will face a fine of up to 10 years’ imprisonment.
Previously, the same offence would have been punishable by “correctional labor” of up to two years – or up to five years in prison. Violation of public order by organising and holding rallies and street demonstrations were punishable by 15 days’ arrest.
Insulting and slandering the president, already an offense, was amended to include using digital and online means, and are also punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment.
President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who assumed the presidency in 2016, took some concrete steps to improve the country’s human rights record, but has overwhelmingly focused on opening the economy to foreign investment and a large-scale overhaul of the former autarkic, command economy.
Uzbekistan holds presidential election in October this year. Mirziyoyev has yet to say if he plans to run for a second term, but most observers say that is a forgone conclusion.