Uzbekistan offers 'safe internet' for youth

By Maksim Yeniseyev


Young participants of the 'Open Dialogue' process March 31 in Tashkent discuss questions they have for officials. [Kamolot]

TASHKENT -- A number of initiatives taking place in Uzbekistan are focusing on the need to prevent youth radicalisation.

The effort comes as hundreds of radicalised Uzbekistanis and ethnic Uzbeks fight in Syria and Afghanistan.

The initiatives include "open dialogues" between students and officials, as well as a "safe internet" package offered by Uztelecom, the country's largest internet service provider.

"Safe internet" is meant to help parents shield their children from harmful messages on extremist websites, say officials.

Youth face various threats like the promotion of extremism and other destructive ideas online, said Uzbektelecom General Director Shukhrat Kodirov and Deputy Minister of Development of Information Technologies and Communications Umijon Alamov at a March 30 Tashkent news conference, according to the Uzbekistan National News Agency.

'Safe internet' package for youth

"A user who signs up for the 'safe internet' package have access only to sites included on a special ... registry," Aziz Ergashev, a spokesman for Uzbek Telecom, told Caravanserai.

"Parents may choose such a plan for their children and teenagers," he added. "The registry excludes violent propaganda sites and suspicious or extremist sites."

"Social media sites are restricted, since controlling their content is impossible," said Ergashev. "Moderators manually add sites to the registry."

The "safe internet" plan comes at a discount, costing users only 12,000 to 25,000 UZS ($3.30 to $6.90) per month, depending on traffic volume.

Parents like Aziza Babakhojayeva of Tashkent welcome the plan.

"This is an excellent initiative," she told Caravanserai. "I had an enormously difficult time limiting my child's access to undesirable sites ... The price for the package is so low that I think I'll hook up his computer to a separate 'safe' line."

"Neither parents nor schools teach children how to use the internet," Nadezhda Orekhova, a high school teacher from Tashkent, told Caravanserai. "Adults have learned some skills over the years: we know that you never open spam email, we don't add suspicious people to our friend list on social media, and we verify any information we get. But children ... have no such experience."

As part of the continued effort to ward off online dangers facing youth, the Information Security Centre (TsOIB) of Uzbekistan conducted a series of educational seminars on computer technology in colleges and academic high schools in March.

TsOIB specialists told students about dangerous internet games, "netiquette", viruses and ways to protect themselves from online threats, according to a March 30 TsIOB statement.

Focusing on youth issues, sharing experience

To address the risks that youth may encounter and to make clear they have alternatives, Kamolot, a national NGO for youth, has initiated the Open Dialogue project. The project calls for regular meetings between youth and government officials.

The first Open Dialogue took place in Tashkent March 31, during which the participants discussed the challenges facing young Uzbekistani entrepreneurs. Kamolot plans similar meetings every month that will cover a variety of topics, including causes of juvenile crime and protection of youth from online dangers.

Officials at the March 31 session took questions in person, by phone and by text messages, Kamolot spokesman Sherzod Mirkamalov told Caravanserai.

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