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Karakalpak activist Koshkarbai Toremuratov is being deported from Austria to Poland

Another Karakalpak activist Koshkarbai Toremuratov is being deported from Austria to Poland under Dublin procedure. Toremuratov is one of five Karakalpak activists arrested in Kazakhstan on Uzbekistan’s request and are currently facing extradition.

From left to right: Koshkarbai Toremuratov, Raisa Hudaibergenova, Zhangeldi Zhaksymbetov, Ziuar Mirmanbetova, Tleubike Yuldasheva

Koshkarbai Toremuratov is a civil rights activist who lived permanently in Kazakhstan until 2023 and has been advocating for his home country – Karakalpakstan’s independence from Uzbekistan for years. Toremuratov is an ethnic Karakalpak and a citizen of Uzbekistan. In 2006, he moved to Kazakhstan, where he married to Kalia Mangibaeva in 2010, a citizen of Kazakhstan. They have two children together. 

In 2013, after living in Kazakhstan for seven years, Koshkarbai Toremuratov, together with other Karakalpak migrants, started the website, advocating for Karakalpakstan independence from Uzbekistan. After Toremuratov began his activism, Uzbek authorities visited his family in Karakalpakstan, threatening and pressuring him through his relatives. In 2014, Toremuratov went home to his mother’s funeral and was immediately arrested by police under article 223 of the Criminal Code of Uzbekistan: “Illegal travel abroad or illegal entry into the Republic of Uzbekistan”. Uzbekistan had a law according to which citizens were obligated to apply for exit visas without which they could not leave the country. The law was abolished on 1 January 2019 after years of international pressure and criticism due to violation of the freedom of movement. Nevertheless, a wide number of activists, journalists and religious believers were persecuted by Uzbekistan under this article. The court gave him a maximum sentence of 6 years in prison despite that it was proof that Toremuratov did not violate any rules. Toremuratov’s appeals to the court decision in higher instances were not satisfied. He spent 3,5 years in prison and was released in 2018 on parole after the death of the first president of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov. Koshkarbai stated that while in detention he was tortured and severely injured. However, his claims regarding torture were left without consideration. 

After release, he went back to Kazakhstan and started a YouTube channel, “PIKIR,” in 2020, where he discussed prison conditions, political repression, and oppression of Karakalpaks. His channel had 20,000 followers with an average of 150,000 views. Youtube channel was blocked by the request of Uzbekistan authorities.

In 2022 Toremuratov openly criticised the proposed amendments to Uzbekistan’s Constitution, in which Uzbek authorities removed the provision regarding the sovereignty of Karakalpakstan and the right to secede from Uzbekistan. The resulting peaceful protest ended in UZbek authorities excessive use of force and bloody crackdown of unarmed protesters and hundreds of unlawful arrests. The criminal case against Toremuratov was initiated in 2022 after Karakalpakstan’s July protests because he reposted a video posted in 2020 in which several people protested for independence in the main square of Nukus, Karakalpakstan’s capital city. The video does not contain any call to violence or mass riots. However, in August 2022, Uzbek authorities brought the following charges against Toremuratov, article 159 Criminal Code of Uzbekistan, “Encroachments on the constitutional system of the Republic Uzbekistan,” and Article 244/1 Criminal Code of Uzbekistan, “Production, distribution and demonstration of materials containing threats to public safety and public order”. 

On 13 September 2022, he was arrested by Kazakhstan’s police based on an extradition request from Uzbekistan and spent 12 months in a detention center while the migration department considered his asylum request in Kazakhstan. On 27 July 2023, Toremuratov’s asylum request was denied without providing any grounds for refusal. 

In October 2023, he came to Warsaw, Poland, to participate in the OSCE Human Dimension Conference. During the conference Toremuratov made a presentation about Uzbek authorities’ excessive use of force against the protesters in July 2022 in Karakalpakstan and violation of rights of political prisoners. After the conference, he decided to apply for asylum; however, while in Poland Toremuratov received threats from Uzbek diplomats.

Due to fear of an attack by Uzbek authorities against him in Poland and given the Poland’s record on refoulement of Central Asian critics to their home countries he reached Austria where he applied for asylum. The recent example of Poland’s violation of international law is the case of Sorbon Abdurahimzoda. On June 23, 2023 Poland has deported Tajik peaceful opposition activist Sorbon Abdurahimzoda to Dushanbe despite a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) forbidding the removal. Abdurahimzoda was wanted in Tajikistan for “liking” posts by exiled opposition groups on social networks. Sorbon Abdurahimzoda has since been subjected to enforced disappearance and sentenced to.

On 17 February, Aqylbek Muratbai, a 35-year old blogger and a human rights advocate from Karakalpakstan, was detained in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Aqylbek is charged under Articles 244, part 2, paragraph “b” and 244-1 part 2, paragraph “g” of the Uzbekistan Criminal Code (public call for mass riots and violence and extremism). The extremism charges were brought against Muratbai for publishing a video of Koshkarbay Toremuratov’s speech at the OSCE conference in October 2023.

Toremuratov’s deportation from Austria is planned for February 29, 2024.

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