In this March 31, 2018, photo, Omir Bekali holds up a mobile phone showing a photo of his parents whom he believes have been detained in China, in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
In this March 31, 2018, photo, Omir Bekali holds up a mobile phone showing a photo of his parents whom he believes have been detained in China, in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

ALMATY, KAZAKHSTAN - Ex-Soviet republic Uzbekistan unblocked a dozen news and rights websites known for critical coverage of the Central Asian country, a top media official said, citing the government's commitment to freedom of information.

Komil Allamjonov, head of the country's Information and Mass Communications Agency said that Uzbekistan had taken measures to eliminate "certain technical issues" to provide local users access to the websites, some of which had been blocked for over a decade.

The British Broadcasting Company's Uzbek service, Voice of America, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders' websites were among those listed in a Facebook post on the matter.

In a May 11 post on Twitter, Allamjonov said the blocks had been lifted after his agency had "carefully studied the facts of inhibited access to some news web resources" raised by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe's media freedom representative Harlem Desir.

Allamjanov did not mention when Desir had raised the issue with the government.

"I would like to note that the President of Uzbekistan constantly emphasizes the need to ensure freedom of speech and information in #Uzbekistan," Allamjonov tweeted.

The move to unblock the websites is likely to be viewed as another step in authoritarian Uzbekistan's cautious opening following the death of long-ruling strongman President Islam Karimov in 2016.

Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who served as prime minister for 13 years before ascending to the presidency, has trimmed some of his predecessor's repressive excesses while keeping the authoritarian system intact.

The Russia-based Fergana news agency focused on the Central Asian region was another website that Allamjonov said had been unblocked.

Fergana reported Karimov's death before any other media in 2016 but only had its correspondent re-accredited by the government in April after a 14-year hiatus.

The tweet did not mention the popular Uzbek-language service of US-funded Radio Free Europe, which has been unavailable in Uzbekistan.

Many media and rights organizations were effectively barred from Uzbekistan after the bloody suppression of protests in the eastern city of Andijan in 2005 -- when hundreds of opposition demonstrators are believed to have been gunned down in a massacre.