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Karakalpak human rights defender Akylbek Muratbai sends a letter from detention center

On February 21, 2024, shortly after his arrest in mid-February, Karakalpak activist Akylbek Muratbai (Muratov) passed a letter to the administration of the pre-trial detention center in Almaty to be sent to his sister’s address in Almaty. It was received one and a half month later, last week.

The original letter in Russian in attached here. The translation is below:

“Hello everyone! Thanks to all those journalists, human rights activists and diplomats who monitor and cover human rights violations in the Republic of Karakalpakstan and help Karakalpak civil activists who are unfairly persecuted by the authorities of Uzbekistan . Special thanks to KIBHR and the lawyers on our cases! Each of you helps not just one or several people, but in fact you save the entire Karakalpak nation. I express my condolences to the family and associates of Alexei Navalny, and to the entire grieving Russian nation. Alexey was an example of unshakable courage and true patriotism (in the best meaning of this word, no matter how distorted it was by state propaganda). The true hero of Russia is gone. But I believe that Russia will become free, as Alexei Navalny dreamed of ! Imanly bolsyn… I was arrested late in the evening of February 15, and after midnight, February 16, I was placed in the detention center of the Almaty Department of Internal Affairs. In the cell behind bars that night I was not allowed to lose heart, among other things, by thoughts about those civil activists who are now much worse off than me. I mainly remembered Dauletmurat Tazhimuratov and Alexei Navalny. Later I learned that Alexey died in a Russian prison. And now the concern for the life and health of Tazhimuratov has intensified, whose lawyer has repeatedly reported on the monstrous conditions of his detention in an Uzbek prison. Therefore, I again urge the world community and international organizations to pay close attention to the fate of human rights activist and journalist Dauletmurat Tazhimuratov , who was unjustly sentenced to 16 years after the brutal suppression of protests in Karakalpakstan. The death of Alexei Navalny in custody should be a bitter lesson for the entire democratic world, and not another dark example to be followed by such authoritarian regimes as the Mirziyoyev regime in Uzbekistan.

Everything is relatively normal with me. I expected to be arrested to some extent, but I did not want to ask for asylum in a third country (as I was offered more than once), because… those who want dialogue do not run. And all I wanted and still hope for is for the authorities of Uzbekistan to hear the civil society of Karakalpakstan and begin a dialogue with the Karakalpaks, and not carry out terror and repression against us. In the materials of the criminal case brought against me in Uzbekistan, my posting of five videos on my Youtube channel “Aqylbek Muratbai” is indicated as a crime. Three of these videos are speeches of Karakalpak activists at the OSCE Warshaw Conference according to the human dimension in October 2023. They talk about human rights violations in the Republic of Karakalpakstan, politically motivated persecution of Karakalpaks by the Uzbek authorities, as well as the systematic theft of multibillion-dollar funds allocated by foreign funds to Tashkent to solve environmental and humanitarian problems of the Aral Sea region. Thus, the Ministry of Interior of Uzbekistan considered that posting excerpts from the OSCE human rights conference taken from the organization’s Youtube channel is “extremism and fundamentalism.” By the way, this conference was attended by official representatives of Uzbekistan represented by employees of the embassy in Warsaw, as well as the Uzbek ombudsman Feruza Eshmatova and human rights activist Gulnoz Mamarasulova – both members of a government commission that has not yet published a final report on the events in Karakalpakstan (20 months have already passed).

In addition to the definitions of “extremism” and “fundamentalism,” these three videos are considered [by Uzbek authorities] as “separatism.” According to the conclusion of the Ministry of Interior of the Republic of Uzbekistan, mentioning paragraphs of the constitution of the Republic of Uzbekistan is a serious criminal offense. The constitutional right of the Republic of Karakalpakstan to a referendum on secession from Uzbekistan (Article 89) excludes the validity of applying the term “separatism” to the peaceful expression of opinions about this right of Karakalpaks, including to express the requirements for its implementation.

The other two videos, also cited in the criminal case as crimes, were filmed by me. In them, I call for a peaceful event to be held in memory of those killed and unjustly convicted as a result of protests suppressed by lethal force in Karakalpakstan in July 2022. The idea of the online event was that on the 500th day from the date of these bloody events – November 13, 2023 – Karakalpaks all over the world at the same time turned off the lights in their homes for 16 minutes (a reference to the 16 years in prison to which Dauletmurat Tazhimuratov was sentenced). To sit in the dark in memory of the dark pages in the history of the Karakalpak people – I proposed this peaceful action as an alternative to rallies to express my grief over the tragic events of July 2022, as well as a form of silent disagreement with the ongoing human rights violations in Karakalpakstan. The Uzbek authorities recognized the proposal to turn off the lights at our homes in memory of the victims as “a call for mass unrest and violence against citizens.”

Taking into account all of the above, I believe that the criminal case against me is a politically motivated persecution, primarily due to my ethnicity. In fact, for the Mirziyoyev regime, my main fault is that I am a Karakalpak who does not want to silently observe the ethnocide (genocide?) of my people. I ask journalists, human rights activists and governments of democratic countries to pay attention to the ongoing violations of human rights in the Republic of Karakalpakstan. I ask you not to be silent. Because the voice of the Karakalpak people themselves is silenced under pressure and repression from the Uzbek authorities. I apologize to everyone whose messages I did not respond to in time. Now, in the pre-trial detention center cell, I have much more free time (than I would like!), so I will be very glad to receive your letters (in a language convenient for you), including with any questions about Karakalpakstan. My mailing address for the near future (year?): Republic of Kazakhstan, Almaty, st. Krasnogorskaya 73, Institution No. 72. Recipient: Muratov A.E., 07/16/1988 Sincerely, Akylbek 02/21/2024.”

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