by Kateryna Mishchenko
In the Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan in western Uzbekistan, there has been increased pressure from Uzbek special services on local residents. They are being persecuted for expressing political protest on social media and are threatened with fines and arrests. Special propaganda meetings are being held with students from local universities aimed at preventing support for those arrested after protests in Nukus, including Karakalpak activist Dauletmurat Tajimuratov, who was convicted of conspiracy to seize power.
In early July 2022, residents of Karakalpakstan held a mass protest and took to the central square in the capital, Nukus. The residents protested against the plan to strip Karakalpakstan of its status as a sovereign republic within Uzbekistan. The authorities forcefully suppressed the protests. Tashkent stated that 21 people died during the events in Nukus, four of whom were employees of competent structures. However, according to the registered human rights organization Freedom for Eurasia in Austria, no fewer than 70 people died in the conflict between the people and the authorities in Nukus.
On November 7, 2022, the international organization Human Rights Watch noted that the Uzbekistan authorities used firearms during the protest in Nukus and called for an open investigation. After the events in Nukus, protest sentiments in Karakalpakstan subsided. The active youth moved to Telegram.
After the suppression of the uprising in Karakalpakstan, Uzbekistan’s president Shavkat Mirziyoyev made a special visit to the republic and attempted to calm the local population. Mirziyoyev justified himself by stating that the Karakalpaks themselves had proposed changing the sovereign status of the Republic. “I have a small objection. You yourselves were at the head of all this, you yourselves initiated, signed, and approved the document,” he said in his speech to the Supreme Council of Karakalpakstan.
According to the representative of the Karakalpak diaspora in Kazakhstan, Akylbek Muratov, the people found out about the authorities’ initiative after the publication of the draft amendments to the Constitution. Later, in connection with the events in Nukus, 61 citizens of Karakalpakstan were convicted. The Court found most of them guilty of “conspiracy to attempt to overthrow the constitutional order of Uzbekistan and seize power.”
The harshest punishment was received by one of the accused, Dauletmurat Tajimuratov, a lawyer for the newspaper Ел қызметінде. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison for “organizing mass riots,” and in addition to imprisonment, he was ordered to pay damages amounting to 228.8 million sum (over 20 thousand dollars).
After the Court’s decision on Tajimurato’s case, dissatisfaction with Tashkent’s actions among Karakalpak youth has increased even more. However, they cannot openly express their political views due to pressure from the security services. Also, the national consciousness of the Karakalpaks has grown after the events in Nukus.
Intimidation of activists by law enforcement officers and propagandist meetings with students are the ‘legacy’ of former Uzbekistan president Islam Karimov. “Despite the change of power in Uzbekistan in 2016, no reforms in the field of human rights protection have been carried out in the Country. Although Mirziyoyev’s administration initially stated that it would accept criticism openly, later it began to exert pressure on journalists and bloggers,” says human rights activist Steve Sverdlov.
Current Uzbekistan president Shavkat Mirziyoyev came to power after the death of Islam Karimov. Prior to that, for 13 years, Mirziyoyev was the prime minister of the Country. After being elected president of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev embarked on a path of transformation in the Country, marked by sweeping social reforms and economic liberalization. His presidency was characterized by a series of important measures aimed at increasing transparency, improving governance, expanding press freedom, and paying special attention to human rights.
The British publication The Economist named Uzbekistan the Country that achieved the greatest changes in 2019. However, Mirziyoyev later held a referendum on the Constitution and extended his term in office until 2037. In July 2023, The Foreign Policy wrote that “after the protests in Karakalpakstan, freedom of the press in the Country came under strict control.”
On the cover photo, Republic of Karakalpakstan flag on dry earth ground texture background ©grafvision/Shutterstock.com