Caspian Region

Uzbek Journalists, Other Karakalpak Activists Given Prison Sentences for Protests


(RFE.RL) BUKHARA, Uzbekistan - A court in the southwestern Uzbek city of Bukhara has handed sentences to 22 people - including lawyer and journalist Dauletmurat Tajimuratov - accused of undermining the constitutional order for taking part in unprecedented anti-government protests in the autonomous Karakalpakstan region last year.


The Bukhara regional court on January 31 sentenced Tajimuratov to 16 years in prison after finding him guilty of allegedly plotting to seize power by disrupting the constitutional order, organizing mass unrest, embezzlement, and money laundering.


Tajimuratov is a lawyer for the El Khyzmetinde (At People's Service) newspaper, where he was previously the chief editor.


Four defendants, including another journalist, Lolagul Qallykhanova, were handed parole-like sentences and immediately released from custody.


Other defendants were sentenced to prison terms of between three and 8 1/2 years. It remains unclear how the defendants pleaded.


Uzbek authorities say 21 people died in Karakalpakstan during the protests, which were sparked by the announcement in early July last year of a planned change to the constitution that would have undermined the autonomous republic's right to self-determination.


The violence in Nukus, the main city in Karakalpakstan, forced President Shavkat Mirziyoev to make a rare about-face and scrap the proposal.


Mirziyoev accused "foreign forces" of being behind the unrest, without further explanation, before backing down from the proposed changes.


The trial started in late November in Bukhara, around 600 kilometers from both Nukus and the capital, Tashkent.


Mirziyoev came to power in 2016 after the death of his autocratic predecessor, Islam Karimov.


Karakalpaks are a Central Asian Turkic-speaking people. Their region used to be an autonomous area within Kazakhstan before becoming autonomous within the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic in 1930 and then part of Uzbekistan in 1936.


Karakalpakstan is home to fewer than 2 million people in a country of 35 million, but it covers more than one-third of Uzbekistan's territory.


The European Union has called for an independent investigation into the violence.