A court in Bukhara, Uzbekistan, sentenced 22 people to fines as well as jail time on Tuesday, January 31, for participating in the violent protests that took place last year in the country’s Karakalpakstan autonomous region.
The court found the defendants guilty of crimes such as threatening public security, indulging in hooliganism, conspiring against the unity of the state, and organizing mass riots.
Most defendants pleaded guilty during the trial, which was broadcast live. The court handed out sentences ranging from three to 16 years in prison based on the different crimes.
Of the 22 people sentenced, 15 were given jail terms between three years to eight and half. The main defendant, Devletmurat Tajimuratov, was sentenced to 16 years in prison. Six others, including Lolagul Kallikhanova, the second key accused, were given suspended sentences and released immediately after the verdict was pronounced.
Last year, on July 1 and 2, massive protests took place in Karakalpakstan’s capital Nukus and some other areas in the region against a proposed amendment to the constitution
According to the protesters, the constitutional amendment would remove Karakalpakstan autonomous region’s right to secede. As per the existing provision, the region, home to nearly two million people and comprising around 40% of Uzbekistan’s geographical area, can secede from the country if such a resolution is approved by a referendum.
The proposed amendment was later withdrawn by the Uzbekistan government.
The government, however, termed the protests a foreign-backed conspiracy. The regional government issued a statement on July 2, 2022, accusing the protesters of being “a criminal group of individuals” who tried to take control over “the state administration of the Republic of Karakalpakstan.”
Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, in a speech a few days later, called the protests a well-thought out plan to cause disintegration of Uzbekistan by creating “an inter-ethnic conflict.”
While ethnic Uzbeks constitute the overwhelming majority of the population in the country, most residents of the Karakalpakstan region belong to the Karakalpak ethnic group. Their share in the country’s total population is just above 2%.
During the protests, the security forces resorted to the use of force against the protesters. In the ensuing violence, at least 21 people were killed and hundreds more injured, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). Official figures, however, claimed that the number of people killed was 18, at least four of them being security personnel.
Over 500 people were arrested during the protests but most of them were released later.
HRW has termed the trial and sentencing of the protesters in Uzbekistan “persecution” and demanded that the role of the security forces during the protests be investigated. It accused the Uzbeki security forces of using “unjustifiable lethal force” against the protesters. HRW also highlighted that the Uzbek authorities have accepted in a written reply that at least 39 more people remain in jail in relation to the case.