Uzbekistan: Second Karakalpakstan trial nears end amid general indifference
Fully 39 people are on trial. Prosecutors are asking for prison sentences of up to 12 years.
Another trial in Uzbekistan for people accused by the state of either inciting or participating in deadly unrest in the autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan last July is nearing its close and is likely, once again, to end up with stiff sentences for many of the defendants.
While the first trial, which ended in late January with all 22 defendants being found guilty, earned some domestic media attention, these proceedings have gone largely unnoticed.
Last week, prosecutors asked the court in Bukhara to sentence another 39 people to various punishments, ranging from 12 years in prison to limited freedom. All were arrested following mass disturbances stemming from discontent over plans to amend the constitution in such a way as to further dilute Karakalpak autonomy. The authorities claim demonstrators initiated the violence, while others, including local activists who have spoken to Eurasianet on condition of anonymity, insist the bloodshed was the result of a heavy-handed crackdown.
No date has been publicly announced for when the sentencing will take place.
Charges against the defendants include vandalism, robbery, rioting and producing or disseminating materials perceived as containing a threat to public order.
Some of the specific accusations are striking. Oralbai Dosnazarov, 46, a lawyer from the city of Nukus, Karakalpakstan’s capital, is accused of holding a meeting with fellow lawyers to discuss their unhappiness with the proposed changes to the constitution. Prosecutors have further maintained that Dosnazarov incited a crowd of people to protest when the main defendant in the first Karakalpakstan trial, Dauletmurat Tazhimuratov, who is now a few weeks into a 16-year prison sentence, was arrested in the early stages of the unrest.
Prosecutors want a 12-year sentence for Dosnazarov. They want the same punishment for Omirbek Kurbanov, a businessman charged with disseminating video footage that prosecutors say incited people to riot and take an active part in protests.
Dauranbek Ramanov, 27, an assistant to Tazhimuratov, and Sharapat Ashirbekov, who has been identified as the administrator of a YouTube channel in Tazhimuratov’s name, are both facing more than 10 years in prison.
Also on trial are two journalists: Abdimalik Khozhanazarov, 49, the chief editor of a local newspaper called El Khyzmetinde (At the service of the people), and Yesimkan Kanatov, 42, a reporter for a local outlet called Ishonch (Trust). Kanatov earlier worked for state-run news agency UzA.
Prosecutors have asked Dauletbai Razov, the judge presiding over the trial, to sentence both men to seven years in prison for publishing articles “based on ideas of separatism” and active participation in the riot.
This trial, like the one that preceded it, has taken place in Bukhara, a city located almost 600 kilometers from the site where the events took place and where relatives of the defendants live. Officials have said this decision was made necessary by construction work at court facilities in Nukus.
Tazhimuratov, the main figure in the first trial, has signaled he intends to mount a legal fightback. His brother, Rinat, has reportedly said an appeal has been filed with the Supreme Court to argue the case that Tazhimuratov was not pursuing the “overthrow the constitutional order,” as maintained by prosecutors.
Following news of that appeal being mounted, Tazhimuratov’s sister, Mariya, recorded a live stream claiming that relatives of the imprisoned activist were being harassed by the security services in reprisal for speaking out. In a short YouTube livestream uploaded by Kazakh activist Galym Ageleuov, she addresses Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and pleads with him to intervene and stop her other brothers from being summoned for daily interrogations.
“Dear president … you said that the trial and the investigations would be fair, but that has not been the case,” she says.
Fully 21 people died as a result of the turmoil on July 1-2. Four among those killed were law enforcement officers. The circumstances that led to the 17 civilian fatalities is shrouded in mystery. Copious photographic evidence shows people bearing catastrophic wounds that look to be the result of the deployment of live rounds and explosive material.
Human Rights Watch studied videos and photos showing 38 people who had been killed or injured during the unrest and found that “14 of them apparently suffered injuries highly consistent with explosive trauma, including penetrating lacerations and losing large portions of flesh.”
No police or National Guard officers are yet known to have been investigated for how they acted in quashing the Nukus protests.
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