Officials of the Tashkent City Education Department may be behind hundreds of electronic messages sent by local teachers praising efforts by Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev and several state bodies to slow the spread of the coronavirus in the Central Asian nation.
RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service has been inundated with the messages, the majority of which had the exact same text, sent to its Telegram account on April 24-25. It was not immediately clear whether other news outlets were also inundated with the messages.
RFE/RL contacted some of the “authors” of the messages, who said the Tashkent City Education Department prepared the text of the message and distributed it among teachers of kindergartens and schools of Tashkent’s Olmazor District, ordering them to send the message to RFE/RL.
The message says “we consider as just and correct all the measures implemented by our motherland’s President Mirziyoev during the ordeal faced by our country.”
“The work of the medical personnel, who are fighting to save patients’ lives, putting their own lives in danger, is hard to assess…the devoted day-and-night work of law enforcement officers and the National Guard is being done for our motherland’s safety and prosperity…. We bow and express our gratitude to them,” the message says.
Some teachers say they were instructed to add their own words to the message, which they did, calling Mirziyoev “the caring Yurtbashi [Leader of the Nation]” and “the real leader of the caravan [a literary or poetic praise of a country’s leader in Central Asia].”
Similar messages were sent to RFE/RL’s Telegram account by the parents of some students.
The parents told RFE/RL that teachers had asked them to send the message, while teachers had received their instructions from school principals who were following orders from the Education Department that came from “the corresponding organization,” a phrase used in Soviet times to define secret services.
RFE/RL found a text of the instruction sent to principles of schools in the Olmazor District by Education Department official Yashigul Shadieva.
She wrote: “Dear principles, I ask you to be active in spreading the positive information on measures undertaken in our country in this dangerous situation that alarms the world.”
The letter also orders principals to report on how the instruction was carried out by sending her screenshots of all the messages sent to RFE/RL by teachers and parents.
Shadieva also noted in her instruction letter that a similar message-sending method was used during last year’s parliamentary elections.
On April 10, Uzbekistan’s Interior Ministry announced a project to create “a virtual group of patriot-bloggers” with the participation of the Union of Youth and the IT University in Tashkent.