A year ago, on July 1-3, 2022, in Karakalpakstan, a sovereign republic that is part of Uzbekistan, the Karakalpaks opposed the draft amendment to the Constitution of Uzbekistan. The project assumed the abolition of the sovereign status of Karakalpakstan; it was not published in advance for discussion and became unexpected for the population of the republic; it was perceived as a violation of the rights of the Karakalpak people. After the arrest of protest leader Dauletmurat Tazhimuratov on July 1, residents of Nukus massively went to a peaceful demonstration; later, during the trial, there was no evidence that the protest leaders called for any violent actions. On the night of July 1-2, law enforcement agencies used tear gas, smoke bombs, stun grenades and rubber bullets against a large number of people gathered near the Parliament of Karakalpakstan, while the National Guard of the Republic of Uzbekistan used firearms, according to eyewitnesses and the testimony of protesters who were later on trial. Isolated cases of violence from the side of protesters became a response to the brutality of the security forces. The protests were completely suppressed by the morning of July 3; however, the state of emergency in Karakalpakstan was lifted only on July 21. According to official data, 21 people were killed, but some other estimations give at least 77 victims.
The protesters are still on trial. In March 2023, 39 people were convicted; for some of them in June 2023, after an appeal, the sentence was commuted, but many did not receive leniency, including Dauletmurat Tazhimuratov, who was sentenced to 16 years in prison. The Karakalpak community perceives these sentences as a blatant and tragic injustice; experts prove the absurdity of the charges and the political motivation of the trial. The behavior of the defendants during the trial in the first instance – a confession of guilt, testimony too similar to a conspiracy and self-incrimination – aroused suspicions of the use of torture and blackmail against them. But the actions of the security forces who shot at unarmed protesters were not investigated, and none of the officers were held responsible for the mass death of people.
The situation in Karakalpakstan remains alarming due to the suppression of freedom of speech and expression, lack of reliable information, lack of a fair investigation. The long-term violations of the rights of Karakalpaks, which resulted in unprecedented repression a year ago, lead to the forced emigration of Karakalpak activists, but in other countries they face the threat of abduction by Uzbek security forces or extradition to Uzbekistan.
Repression and arbitrariness against the Karakalpaks must be stopped. It is necessary to investigate cases of violence and torture; ensure transparency of judicial processes, unhindered work of lawyers, human rights defenders, international observers, and journalists. Unjust sentences must be abolished, perpetrators of violence and torture must be brought to justice, the rights of victims must be restored.
On the eve of the Universal Periodic Review, we call on the UN Member States to pay attention to the situation in Karakalpakstan and make recommendations to the Uzbekistan authorities on the observance of the rights of Karakalpaks and other ethnic minorities. It is necessary to guarantee international protection to those who are forced to seek asylum abroad, not to expel them to Uzbekistan, where they may be at risk of torture and persecution. The international community, including the UN bodies, should respond more decisively to the problems of minorities in Central Asia, protect them from discrimination and repression.