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Reports on state-sanctioned violence and suppression of dissent; persecutions and harassment of journalists and media organisations.

Karakalpakstan: Report about Mission on 23-26 October 2023


Smoke grenades and rubber bullets fired by security forces, deadly attacks by police officers. Videos on the Internet still show the brutality of the unrest that shook Uzbekistan at the beginning of July, 2022. Several thousand people took to the streets in Nukus, the capital of the autonomous region of Karakalpakstan in western Uzbekistan, fighting with police and soldiers over three days. The protests in Karakalpakstan were triggered by a planned constitutional change. Accordingly, Karakalpakstan, which is officially an autonomous republic within Uzbekistan, should be denied the right to secede from Uzbekistan via a referendum. When Uzbekistan became independent in 1991 after the fall of the Soviet Union, this right was granted to the Karakalpakstan region.

The situation has calmed down on the surface. The Uzbek government has suspended constitutional amendments concerning Karakalpakstan and President Mirziyoyev has visited the region twice since then, announcing investment programs to combat poverty in the region.

The Uzbek parliament has also formed an investigative commission. It is said to be able to independently reconstruct the sequence of events in July. But as of now, this commission did not publish any findings on the violent incidents, as well as other investigative authorities were not willing or allowed to continue any inquiries.

No matter how transparent the government in Uzbekistan may make law enforcement investigations into the protests appear, especially to Western observers, the people of Uzbekistan remain fearful of reprisals from the regime.

The mission’s purpose:

After publishing several reports on the protests in Nukus, Karakalpakstan, “Freedom for Eurasia” hereinafter – FFE hosted an event at this years’ WHDC of the OSCE in Warsaw, Poland, to inform the member states of the organization about the current legal, social and individual consequences resulted from the events in the north of Uzbekistan. To investigate further the current situation one year after the protests, “Freedom for Eurasia” decided to send it’s experts to Nukus, Karakalpakstan. The purpose of the mission was the following:

  • the situation of the imprisoned protesters
  • the situation of the relatives who lost a family member during the protests
  • the status of the promised independent investigations into the events in Nukus in July 2022
  • the status of possible financial compensations to families of killed protesters
  • based on independent investigations, giving the relatives the truth about what really happened to their killed loved ones

It also has to be mentioned that “Freedom for Eurasia” will not publish some family names and other personal details in this report, for the safety of the families and individuals we talked to. We only refer, when writing about special cases, to “family 1, family 2, etc.”

General observations:

Some of the families reported to us that days and in some cases hours before the meeting with Freedom for Eurasia, they were visited by members of the local security authority demanding not to meet with FFE experts. Because of such “visits”, some families who initially agreed to meet , later refused an interview because of the threats by police and other government authorities. The experts of “Freedom for Eurasia” informed some of the relatives before the meeting about our presence in Nukus, other ones the experts did not inform beforehand due to unavailability of a phone number or a messenger and went to their homes without previous notice about the visit.

Most of the families “Freedom for Eurasia” met and interviewed said that their relatives were killed by bullet wounds, others – that the death was caused by physical violence or  cause of death was undefined. 

In all cases the bodies were not allowed to be seen by the family members, they were only allowed to see the face. The officials were present at all times, during the transfer of the body to their home, during the mourning and the funeral. The families were not allowed to wash the bodies, which is a common ritual in Karakalpakstan as well as across Central Asia.  The officials demanded a fast funeral, to avoid the risk of relatives or close friends of the victims discovering evidence of violence on the body of the deceased.

Families of victims during the protests

In Nukus experts met with families of five men who were killed during the protest on July 1-2, 2022. All five families informed experts that they never had a chance to see bodies since a fast funeral was demanded by the officials. Relatives said that they were in a state of deep shock and did not reflect on this situation back then, that the authorities were trying to hide something from them by prohibiting viewing the body. 

Alisher Daribaev – a young man whose body was exhumed after the funeral for further independent examinations at the request of his family. The family was granted the request, the body was sent to a pathologist who promised to send the report. After the examination, the body was re-buried. Since the interview with the experts the family did not receive any written report on the examination, even after several requests to the responsible authorities. Alisher’s family, like other families, wants justice for him and to find peace.

According to two other families the experts interviewed (we will mark them as victim 1 and 2 for the safety of their families), victim 1 was killed by a bullet wound and victim 2 by physical violence. The families showed experts the death certificates of the two deceased men. Victim 2 certificate said “blunt trauma to the thorax and abdomen with dismemberment of the spine at the level of the thoracic vertebrae”. The mother of victim 2 said that her older son (older brother of victim 2) realized during the funeral that the body of his brother was literally split into two parts, he suspected that a tank or something heavy rolled over the body. Both families (1 and 2) were told by the officials that the killing of their sons/husbands was due to their own fault and that they were killed by other protesters. When asked whether they were contacted by officials ahead of our meeting, one mother said that they were visited by state officials who demanded not to meet with the Freedom for Eurasia.

Experts met a widow of the man who was killed during the protests in Nukus, July, 2022 (victim 3). The wife received the news on the night of the protests by a hospital staffer, stating that her husband was seriously injured. She was not allowed to leave the house directly after the phone call due to the curfew in the city of Nukus. The next day, she went to the hospital and was told by its administration that her husband passed away and his body was already in the morgue. There, she identified her husband but was not allowed to see his body, but only his face. The death certificate shown to the experts states that the man died of “extreme heat that caused the inner organs to collapse”. No further information was provided and this cause of death sounds very vague. The widow suspects that something like a bomb explosion could have caused the death of her husband. She informed us that her husband was not part of the protests that evening, he was just leaving his work shift on his way home when he passed one location of the protests and saw many injured people. According to her, he told her during their last phone conversation that evening, that he only wanted to help those injured, because he was trained to perform first aid. As in other cases, officials urged her to perform the funeral just hours after the family brought the body home. An official was present near the corpse at all times, so that no relative could examine the body. Meeting with FFE was the first time she spoke to a human rights organization about the events. She was pressured by officials to never talk about the death of her husband with anyone. Despite the threats she is demanding to hold the perpetrators that killed her husband accountable. That was the reason she agreed to talk to “Freedom for Eurasia”. After the death of her husband officials told her that she will be given compensation for wrongful death of her husband at the hands of the Uzbek forces. So far, she has not received anything. 

Similar to the aforementioned families the mother of the victim 4 told experts that her son was not part of the protests. Though it became clear in the early afternoon that protests will take place later that day, the victim 4 and his colleagues were not allowed to leave their office early, in order to return home. After victim 4 did not return home in the evening, his mother and his wife both called him several times but were unable to reach him. They then called several hospitals that night, also the next day to no avail. Finally, after the fourth day they decided to visit all hospitals nearby, including morgues. In one morgue, they tried calling him again, there was no answer, but a phone rang in one of the mortuary rooms and that is how they found his body. Mother and wife of victim 4 became aware of his death only through a coincidence. The death certificate shown to the experts of Freedom for Eurasia says that the man died of a bullet wound to the heart. The father-in-law of the victim 4, like in previous cases, was only allowed to see the face, not the body. Again, officials were present at all times near the body and demanded an immediate funeral, without any religious ceremony. After the situation calmed in Nukus and neighboring districts, the mother of the victim 4 wanted to know who was responsible for her son’s death. At her own personal risk, she interviewed eyewitnesses of the night’s protests who told her that shootings did not come from the crowd on the street, but from snipers on top of surrounding buildings. She went to several investigative bodies responsible for such cases, confronting the officials with her demands and questions. Soon after those visits a representative of the  Prosecutor General’s office in Tashkent visited her and promised further investigations into her son’s killing. She had not received an answer. 

Families of victims of torture

When the Freedom for Eurasia team arrived at the home of the victim of torture, they were followed by an unidentified male, who seemed to have been filming them on his mobile phone. When experts entered the house, they were welcomed by the mother and the wife of the victim. The mother told experts that she is no longer silent and wants to make her case public. 5 minutes into the interview the older brother of the victim arrived, urging the mother to stop the interview immediately. The mother told him that he should be silent, as she is no longer willing to support the silence concerning the protests of July 2022. She told experts that her son was arrested, taken by police from his home and was tortured to death. As the brother continued to urge his mother not to show any further documents, experts stopped the interview to not jeopardize the family’s safety. 

Our team went to the house of another victim of torture, but his widow refused to communicate despite initial agreement to meet. 

Both victims of torture were taken by officials from their home to the police department and later returned back dead without any explanations. Their bodies were accompanied by officials, families were not allowed to perform the normal rituals and were forced to conduct an immediate funeral. Their deaths were not investigated. 

Both victims were prominent Karakalpak philanthropists and community leaders respected by their communities.

Relatives of political prisoners

Zhumasapar Dadebaev. 

Our team met the father of Zhumasapar Dadebaev, an activist who was abducted and illegally transferred from Turkey to Uzbekistan and now sentenced for twelve years. Dadebaev’s family are ethnic Turkmens who lived in Karakalpakstan. Dadebaev’s father shared with us details of his son’s case and also stated that Zhumasapar was regularly tortured by prison officials. 

Saadatdin Reimov. 

Freedom for Eurasia met with Kalbike Sidavlaeva the wife of Reimov. Reimov  and his son were sentenced to 4 and 3 years imprisonment respectively. She herself was detained for 15 days right after the protests in 2022. Their son was arrested and sentenced in December 2022 after false testimony by a provocateur. She shared a video recorded by her son that contains the statement of the young man who earlier gave false testimony to the police against Saadatdin Reimov.  In the video a young man admits that he was tortured by Uzbek officials and forced to accuse Saadatdin Reimov of being one of the protests’ organizers. After the son published the video on social media, in an effort to save his father, he was arrested and convicted. Kalbike Sidavlaeva also added that during the trial against her husband all testimonies claiming that her husband was one of the leaders of the protests and responsible for the deaths of the people were fabricated: those witnesses mentioned in the written trial protocol never testified before the court. It should be noted that Saadatdin Reimov did not participate in protests but was an activist for Karakalpakstan’s independence and Karakalpak language. 

Dauletmurat Tajimuratov. 

The authorities of Karakalpakstan continue to put pressure on the Tajimuratov’s family. Criminal cases have been initiated by law enforcement agencies against Tajimuratov’s sister Maria Tajimuratova and his brother  Kuat Tajimuratov. Both criminal cases are suspended but not closed, which creates psychological pressure on the family. Another one of Tajimuratov’s brothers Renat Tajimuratov was given a supervisor, a representative of the national security service, who regularly checks his activities and monitors trips.  Authorities are putting pressure on Renat Tajimuratov by conducting unscheduled inspections at his work which led to colleagues animosity towards Renat and created an unfriendly work environment. 

Relatives also shared information about conditions of detention of Dauletmurat Tajimuratov in a penal colony. Since Dauletmurat’s imprisonment in penal colony No. 11 in Navoi, Renat who was also his defender throughout the trials was unlawfully forbidden to meet with him. The reasons for this ban were not provided. D. Tajimuratov is allowed two short and one long visits with his family once a year. Short visits are conducted through glass and phone, long 3 days visits in prison guest room. On June 20, 2023 Dauletmurat’s daughter and mother visited him at the colony for one short and one long visit. The next short visit was September 20th. In addition, Dauletmurat was denied the 15 kilograms of food package from his family that he was supposed to receive, which are normally allowed to be transferred to the prisoners once a year. Renat Tajimuratov also gave Freedom for Eurasia an open letter written by Dauletmurat, which describes the inhumane conditions of penal colony No. 11 (Freedom for Eurasia published about it here). The terrible conditions are accompanied by cruel treatment and pressure from the staff and administration of the colony. He is denied access to newspapers, radio and other sources of information. According to Renat, authorities want to deprive Dauletmurat of the possibility to be transferred to a general regime colony with less strict detention conditions after two years in penal colony No. 11. 

Other victims of protests and families of political prisoners did not respond to experts’ calls, despite preliminary agreements. Most likely they were forbidden to meet with experts by officials. 

Human Rights

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