Uzbekistan should allow an independent probe into deadly unrest, refrain from repressions

At least 18 civilians were killed and more than 200 were wounded in Karakalpakstan, an autonomous republic within Uzbekistan, after the Uzbek authorities sent riot police in response to public protests, local and international media said citing official reports. Authorities also declared a state of emergency, imposed a curfew and information blockade, and brought criminal charges against at least one local activist according to official statements and media reports.

Civil Rights Defenders condemn the violent suppression of public protest over legitimate political concerns and urge Uzbek authorities to ensure that a thorough and transparent investigation is carried out into the events with full respect to the principles of rule of law, fair trial and human rights.

The protests in the regional capital Nukus started on Friday, July 1, in connection with amendments to the constitution – proposed and published on June 25 by the Uzbek parliament. Among the proposal were provisions that suggested stripping Karakalpakstan of its rights to sovereignty and secession that have been guaranteed by the Uzbek constitution since 1992.

Hundreds of protesters in Nukus went into the streets after local activists and journalists Lalagul Kallyhanova and Dauletmurat Tadzhimuratov used social media to voice their concerns about the proposed amendments and called on the regional public to hold protests. Whereas Tadzhimuratov is known to be in state custody and facing criminal anti-state charges, no information is available about Kallyhanova’s status or whereabouts. The journalist was said to have been detained on Friday but authorities did not name her as facing charges.

Uzbek president Shavkat Mirziyoyev has flown to the region two times since Friday, ordered the controversial provisions to be removed from the amendments list, and publicly scolded regional parliament members for proposing the changes without any consultations with their constituents.

According to the official account, shared by the Uzbek prosecutors today, the protesters went into the streets after Tadzhimuratov published on a Telegram channel his call for a protest rally that he scheduled for July 5. Following his detention on Friday, prosecutors said up to 300 people went to a police precinct demanding his release. The protesters allegedly seized protective gear and weapons from the riot police and stormed government buildings, the prosecutors said.

Tadzhimuratov could face up to 20 years in jail if convicted on anti-state charges.

Civil Rights Defenders call on the Uzbek authorities to carry out a thorough and transparent probe into the unrest, identify and bring to justice those responsible for the killings, and question the legality of the excessive force used against the civilians. Those detained solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly – including Dauletmurat Tadzhimuratov – should be freed without delay. Uzbek police and prosecutors should also provide information on Kallyhanova and clarify her status if she is in state custody.

Given the government’s history – of sealing the probe into the violent suppression of the Andijon protests in May 2005 – it is imperative that the investigation into the Karakalpakstan crisis involves oversight by independent media and international human rights groups. Authorities should refrain from scapegoating regional activists and targeting protest participants with forced detention, interrogation and other harassment techniques. Authorities should also lift the informational blockade, ensure media and human rights activists access to the region, and stop harassing international journalists who travelled to Nukus to report on the crisis.