A former police officer imprisoned for his alleged involvement in the bloody unrest that tore through Uzbekistan’s autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan in July died suddenly late last week, only days after he was sentenced to a six-year prison term.
News of Polat Shamshetov’s death was confirmed on February 4 by Gulnoz Mamarasulova, an activist and a member of a commission tasked by the government with investigating events in Karakalpakstan’s capital, Nukus, last summer.
Shamshetov, 45, who is said by prosecutors to have died of heart failure, was buried in Nukus on February 6. Video footage of the funeral shared by Karakalpak diaspora-run social media accounts showed large numbers of people turning out to pay their respects.
The suddenness of his passing is likely to spark fresh questions about the conditions in which people detained over the Nukus troubles have been kept while awaiting trial. Mamarasulova publicly offered to investigate “the real causes” behind the death.
As the son of the only president in Karakalpakstan’s history, Shamshetov, who headed the criminal investigations department in Karakalpakstan’s Interior Ministry prior to his arrest, had a particularly notable profile among the 22 people found guilty at the end of a two-month-long trial that wrapped up last week.
The heaviest sentence, 16 years in prison, was reserved for Dauletmurat Tazhimuratov, a Nukus-based lawyer and activist whom the authorities claimed plotted to use the turbulence to topple the authorities in Karakalpakstan and seize power.
The charge against Shamshetov was that he incited and took part in the large-scale disturbances that erupted following an abortive attempt by the government to make changes to the Uzbek constitution that would have seen Karakalpakstan’s already nominal sovereignty diluted even further.
Fully 21 people, including four law enforcement officers, died in the chaos and violence that unfolded on July 1-2. Rights groups and activists have argued that the high civilian toll may have been caused by the use of excessive force to quell the demonstrations.