In February 2019, ARTICLE 19 analysed the Law on the Protection of Professional Activity of Journalists (the Law), adopted by the Uzbekistan Parliament in 1997, and amended most recently in April 2018, for its compliance with international freedom of expression standards.
ARTICLE 19 finds that the Law aims to provide “professional journalists” with “protection;” and includes a number of positive features, including the prohibitions of censorship and prior approval of the publication; it also guarantees a number of rights of journalists, including the right to information and protection of sources; and establishes the “liability” of state authorities and other bodies for violating rights of journalists.
From the outset, ARTICLE 19 notes that democracies typically do not have a specific law on regulation of the press and/or on the “professional activity of journalists.” It also observes that the state of freedom of expression in Uzbekistan has been a contentious subject for ARTICLE 19 for a number of years, as the country has a number of laws that fail to comply with international freedom of expression standards and these laws have been used to control the media in the country. As such, it is not clear how the Law is interpreted in the context of an otherwise restrictive legislation for freedom of expression. Although the Law is not inherently problematic, it is questionable whether it actually fulfils its apparent objective of protecting journalists – or whether its adoption intends to create additional mechanisms to control the press, over and above the general laws applicable to any individual or business.
ARTICLE 19 analyses key provisions of the Law on the basic premise that the protection of journalists necessarily requires the full protection of journalists’ human rights, in particular their freedom of expression upon which the exercise of their journalism and a healthy democracy depends. In the analysis, ARTICLE 19 highlights its concerns and conflicts of the Law with international human rights standards and actively seeks to offer constructive recommendations on how the Law can be amended.
Summary of recommendations
- Uzbekistan should undertake a comprehensive assessment of its legislation related to freedom of expression and ensure that all legislation fully complies with international standards. The legislation should ensure that any restrictions on freedom of expression should strictly meet the three-part test under international human rights standards;
- The definition of “journalist” in the Law should be revised. It should be replaced with a more functional definition of journalism and should be applied to any natural or legal person who is regularly or professionally engaged in the collection and dissemination of information to the public via any means of communication;
- The Law should be amended to provide that everyone (both journalists and other non-journalists) have the right of access to information. Any restrictions on access to information should meet the requirements of international standards. Uzbekistan should also adopt a comprehensive freedom of information law;
- All provisions of the Law setting out professional and ethical standards for journalists should be repealed. An independent self-regulatory body should establish the ethical standards for the press. An independent broadcast regulator should set out the broadcasting standards;
- The rule on protection of sources should be cast as a right, not an obligation, and it should apply to everyone regularly engaged in the professional or regular dissemination of information. The Law should ensure that any restrictions on confidentiality of sources should comply with international freedom of expression standards;
- The Law should ensure that accreditation is required only if due to limited space all interested journalists cannot attend a meeting or follow the activities of a particular body. The Law should provide safeguards against arbitrary refusals of accreditation, such as clear accreditation rules. The accreditation should be overseen by an independent body, such as a journalists’ union and journalists should be granted a right to appeal refusals for accreditations to court;
- Uzbekistan should ensure that its justice system is fully independent and adequately resourced to protect the human rights of all in the country. The justice system should be able to interpret all legislation in compliance with international freedom of expression and human rights standards. A provision enabling this should already be part of domestic law.