Content note: this statement contains references to violence and death.
Update: July 6 — People in Karakalpakstan are still disconnected, making it difficult to establish the whereabouts of loved ones or missing journalists. New reports now clarify that the mobile internet shutdown began on June 26 (not June 27), 2022, and ATMs and payment services no longer function.
July 4: Access Now is demanding the immediate end to an information vacuum that is exacerbating social unrest in Karakalpakstan, an autonomous region of Uzbekistan. In response to the decision by Uzbek President, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, to amend the constitution and curtail the autonomy of the Karakalpak people, protests erupted on July 1, 2022, that were reportedly swiftly met by an internet shutdown.
“Internet access gives people power,” said Felicia Anthonio, #KeepItOn Campaign Manager at Access Now. “And that’s why authorities are likely targeting it in Karakalpakstan. We call on the government of Uzbekistan to ensure an open internet for all, and allow freedom of expression across the region.”
While the President dropped plans to curb Karakalpakstan autonomy from his constitutional reform plans, the situation is far from stabilized. The state of emergency that has been implemented in the region, and set to run until August 2, 2022, means people are denied freedom of movement. This has the potential to provoke further clashes. According to some reports, Karakalpakstan has experienced connectivity issues with mobile internet since June 27, 2022, followed shortly after by the loss of fixed-line internet.
Due to heavy censorship and internet control in Uzbekistan, civil society has found it difficult to confirm the exact number of people being arrested or injured amidst the demonstrations, however, according to Uzbek authorities, 516 people have been detained, 243 wounded, and 18 people have been killed in attempts to suppress the protests.
“We see governments in Central Asia utilize internet shutdowns as a tool to quash protests and freedom of expression and assembly,” said Anastasiya Zhyrmont, Campaigner Eastern Europe and Central Asia at Access Now. “The world witnessed this in Kazakhstan this January, in Tajikistan this May, and now we are hearing of shutdowns in Uzbekistan this July. This limiting of access to life-saving information has not only contributed to higher casualty numbers and aggravated conflicts, but it also provides cover for state crackdowns on people who dare to speak up.”