Staff members of RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, known in Uzbekistan as Ozodlik, have received numerous online death threats in recent days as Central Asia's most populous nation gets ready for presidential elections next week.
On a single day, October 16, dozens of posts threatening RFE/RL's journalists appeared in the Uzbek Service's Telegram channel in just 30 minutes.
The vulgar posts carried threats of beheadings and sexual assaults and were accompanied by images with pornographic elements and an identical caption reading: "Ozodlik's real goal is to marshal a mutiny in Uzbekistan, to disrupt peace, to discredit our president." The posts also hurled insults at RFE/RL's Uzbek Service staff members and their mothers.
Most of the posts came from anonymous accounts. However, the Uzbek Service's Telegram communication managers found out that at least two threats came from accounts associated with users promoting the Uzbek government’s policies related to armed forces.
RFE/RL President Jamie Fly called the threats "disgusting" and urged the Tashkent government to immediately end its intimidating tactics against independent media.
Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev has positioned himself as a democratic reformer after he took over the country of some 34 million people following the death of his authoritarian predecessor, Islam Karimov, in September 2016.
However, in the run-up to presidential elections scheduled for October 24, arrests and attacks on bloggers and journalists have been on rise across the country.
Also, the website of RFE/RL's Uzbek Service was blocked several times and RFE/RL's requests for official accreditation of its correspondents in the country have remained unanswered.
Uzbekistan ranked 157th out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders' 2021 World Press Freedom Index.