Uzbekistan's Data Protection Law Not All It Seems
Uzbekistan has introduced a law protecting personal data that will make it illegal to disseminate information about people’s private life without prior express permission.
The legislation, approved by acting President Shavkat Mirziyoyev on September 23, will make disclosing personal information punishable by severe fines or prison terms.
On the face of it, the development appears to be a positive one and has been welcomed by members of the public.
“These badly needed legal changes will protect citizens from law enforcement organs that gather personal data about people and use it against them,” Irina Tomshevich, an accountant in a private company, told EurasiaNet.org.
But according to Alexei Volosevich, the legal amendments are in violation of laws regulating the functions of the media.
“According to Article 29 of the constitution of Uzbekistan ‘every person has the right to seek, receive and distribute any information, so long as it does not serve to undermine the constitutional order,’” Volosevich said. “That is to say, even though the constitution declares the right of citizens to the free access to information, there are loopholes in the form of ‘other restrictions provided for by law.’”
A commentary published on Central Asia-focused website AsiaTerra pursued the line even more aggressively.
“There is no doubt that these innovations are not aimed at increasing the transparency of public life in Uzbekistan, but at the very opposite — to eliminate media attention on the corrupt, thieves, bandits and other criminals, as well as their families,” the website argued.
Objections to the law have even come from Uzmetronom — a site run by Tashkent-based Sergei Yezhkov, who touts himself as an independent journalist while often acting as a conduit for smears against government opponents.
“Some naive citizens believe the new rules … will restrain the ardor of the security services, and the neighborhood committees that assist them in collating personal information. This is not true. The security services will always find an excuse for their actions and will use their authority to cover for the most zealous neighborhood activists engaged in delving into somebody else’s dirty laundry,” Yezhkov wrote in an unusually blistering commentary.
Indeed, the consensus among Uzbekistan’s narrow community of independent reporters is that the legislation will give authorities a new stick with which to beat anybody suspected of digging into private wealth of people related to top officials.
The latter years of he presidency of the late Islam Karimov were marked by morbid fascination with the gargantuan wealth accrued by his daughters, most notably Gulnara Karimova, who is suspected of having made her fortunes through corruption and embezzlement.
Mirziyoyev appears intent on avoiding that happening under his watch.
“He is preparing the ground for himself by fencing himself and his entourage off from criticism and investigations,” said Uzbek journalist Elparid Hadjayev. “This initiative began immediately after Karimov died.”