Uzbekistan blacks out internet to quell dissent

Frankie Vetch


In early July protests broke out in Karakalpakstan, an autonomous region surrounded by deserts in Uzbekistan. It turned nasty on the evening of July 1 when the police began shooting people. The state said that at least 18 people died, with hundreds of others injured.

The protests, which occurred in the regional capital of Nukus, erupted in response to a proposed constitutional change that would see the Karakalpakstan shift from being an autonomous region, with the right to secede from Uzbekistan, to a province of the country. In an attempt to quell dissent, the government turned to a tactic that has become increasingly common in the region: they cut off the internet.

Reports indicate that as early as June 26, before protests began, the government was already imposing some form of an information blackout by targeting people’s access to mobile internet connection. Later the state began shutting down ATMs and payment services. 

Since then internet connection has remained largely restricted, with a small respite last week when it was turned on again for two hours. The state of emergency has been lifted in Karakalpakstan but as of Monday it seems the internet has still not been fully restored.

According to Anastasiya Zhyrmont, a campaigner in Eastern Europe and Central Asia for the digital rights non-profit Access Now, getting information out of the region is extremely difficult. “The information flow is very limited”, she told me. “Since the first of July the internet has been so unstable. Even if people can get online it can take hours to upload photos, and up to five to 10 minutes to send a simple text message.”

For journalists and non-profits unable to access the region, this presents a significant challenge to covering the issues. Which is, of course, the purpose.

The Uzbekistan government does have a history of targeting online information sources. In November 2021 the national communications regulator, Uzkomnazorat, restricted access to a number of social media sites. The ban, along with previous ones, meant that Uzbekistanis were unable to access TikTok, Skype, WeChat, Facebook, Instagram, Telegram and YouTube among a number of other sites. More recently access to the messaging app Signal has been blocked.

But their approach is not unique. Earlier this year neighboring Kazakhstan imposed a blackout in response to protests against rising fuel prices. We have reported extensively on internet blackouts across the world, including in this listicle (readers may be surprised to see that the U.K. used a blackout in response to Extinction Rebellion protests).

As blackouts become increasingly common, what can be done to tackle them?

Zhyrmont from Access Now says that in Kazakhstan they sought to encourage telecoms companies, many of whom have foreign investors, to help support people in blackouts. But she acknowledges that with employees on the ground, there are risks associated with defying increasingly authoritarian states.

Soon after the protests, the President of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, withdrew his intention to curb Karakpalastan’s autonomy. When the internet is fully restored we will have a better sense of what has been happening. What we know though is that this won’t be the last blackout we see in Uzbekistan. Nor in the rest of the world.


A mysterious cyber attack crippled a Guatemalan newsroom just hours after it published a damning expose into political corruption. The investigation by the independent newsroom No-Ficción revealed that a high-ranking government official with the former president Otto Pérez Molina accused top members of the past administration of receiving tens of millions in bribes from the construction company Odebrecht. Those charged with allegedly taking bribes include more than a dozen current members of Congress. A few hours after the piece went live, No-Ficción’s Twitter account was abruptly deactivated, according to the newsroom. When the page was recovered a few days later, it had lost all of its 17,000-plus followers, and users who tried to follow the account were repeatedly blocked from doing so. The newsroom suspects the incident was likely linked to the revelations in its investigation. “It was a direct attack on the journalistic and democratic advocacy work that No-Ficción has been doing for 4 years,” they wrote

Thousands of miles from Guatemala, journalism in Hungary is also under attack. A reporter with the Hungarian investigative news outlet direkt3 was recently under investigation by the country’s Data Protection Authority because of his reporting on the spyware technology, Pegasus. The journalist was part of the team behind last year’s “Pegasus Project” investigation, which uncovered evidence that Viktor Orban’s government deployed the spyware against Hungarian journalists and media outlets. The reporter was among those targeted by Pegasus. The Data Protection Authority launched an investigation into the government’s use of Pegasus, and absolved the administration in January, claiming the surveillance was “legally justifiable” because of national security concerns. “In #Hungary the data protection authority dismissed cases to investigate abuses of surveillance #Pegasus and said everything was lawful but it’s doing a hell of a job investigating victims of surveillance,” Access Now’s Fanny Hidvegi tweeted. We’ve reported on Pegasus in Hungary and beyond extensively — you can check out some of our work here and here.

Several tech giants are complying with Indonesia’s draconian new internet regulations. The new rules give authorities broad powers to push platforms to remove content deemed unlawful or material that “disturbs the public order.” Under the policy, authorities can also force the platforms to disclose data about certain users. Twitter, Zoom, and Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp are among the companies that have agreed to the new rules. Activists and civil society groups say the new rules threaten freedom of expression and are among the most repressive in Southeast Asia. The digital rights group Article 19 said the country is “poised to bring about one of the most repressive internet governance regimes in the world” and the regulations could “inspire a cascade of further repressive laws and policies in the region.” 

A few weeks ago, we looked at how Russian propagandists were stealthily getting around YouTube’s ban on Kremlin-backed media. Now, the platform is under fire in Russia. YouTube’s parent company, Google, is facing yet another fine in Russia this week, this time largely for content on YouTube that “discredits” the armed forces, promotes extremism and spreads unreliable information about the ongoing “special operation” in Ukraine, says a Moscow court. The company will have to pay 10% of its annual turnover in the country in fines — about $370 million — and is the latest pressure against the company’s operations in Russia where its bank accounts have been seized. Russian lawmakers appear ready to go even further with the parliament’s deputy head of information policy writing that “Google risks losing the Russian market altogether.”

This newsletter is curated by Coda’s senior reporter Erica Hellerstein. Katia Patin, Liam Scott, and Rebekah Robinson contributed to this edition.