President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev signed a law amending the Criminal Code and the Code of Administrative Responsibility on March 15 softening the ban on drone import and usage. The amendments will take effect in three months.

Under the changes, individuals facing charges for the first time for illegal import, sale, purchase, storage or use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, drones), as well as their components and spare parts, will be subject to administrative liability. Previously, they would face criminal liability of up to 3 years in jail.

The law envisages confiscation of UAVs in the state’s favor. Individuals are exempted from liability if they voluntarily surrender UAVs, their components or spare parts.

The revised article 244−4 (illegal import, sale, acquisition, storage or use of UAVs) of the Criminal Code has been supplemented with penalties like alternative fine, correctional labor and restriction of freedom.

Presently, minimum penalty includes incarceration for up to 3 years, with exemption from liability granted if the UAV or its components are voluntarily surrendered. In cases of aggravated circumstances, jail terms can be extended up to 10 years.

According to the Customs Committee, the amendments are expected to reduce the number of offenses related to drone usage and increase the influx of foreign tourists to Uzbekistan. Previously, foreign citizens have been detained several times (known cases) for importing UAVs, including doing it unknowingly.

During discussion of the law in January, the senators stressed that the amendments were part of reforms aimed at democratizing and liberalizing the judicial and legal system, as well as strengthening the rule of law in society.

How drones were banned

The authorities of Uzbekistan imposed a total ban on import and use of drones in 2015. In May 2018, temporary import of UAVs was permitted for foreign media groups to produce photo and video content showcasing Uzbekistan’s tourism potential.

In 2019, criminal liability was introduced for illegal import, sale, purchase, storage or use of drones under a new Article 244−4 of the Criminal Code (except for transit with mandatory declaration).

In May 2020, a local videographer intending to use a drone for filming in Andijan received a three-year suspended sentence with a one-year probation period.

In February 2022, Russian travel blogger Maxim Lymar was detained on a flight from Bukhara to Novosibirsk after a quadcopter was found in his possession.

In June 2022, Russian tourist Poolina Yermakova was detained in Tashkent a few days after crossing the border for importing a drone. The court acquitted her, but the drone was seized.