Uzbekistan has put 22 people on trial, accusing them of “undermining constitutional order” by taking part in unprecedented anti-government protests in July.
Officially, 21 people died in the autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan in the protests, sparked by a planned change to the constitution that would have undermined the region’s right to self-determination.
The violence in Nukus, the main city in Karakalpakstan, forced President Shavkat Mirziyoyev to make a rare about-face and scrap the proposal.
Aziz Obidov, the spokesman for the Supreme Court of Uzbekistan, confirmed to the AFP news agency the trial started on Monday.
Writing on Telegram, Obidov said “22 people” were in the dock, of whom 20 were in custody, with one under house arrest and one out on bail.
They are accused of several offences. The most serious, “undermining constitutional order”, carries a 20-year jail sentence.
Journalists are authorised to cover the trial. However, it was announced only on Sunday evening and takes place in Bukhara, about 600km (370 miles) from both Nukus and Tashkent, the national capital.
Karakalpakstan is home to fewer than two million people in a nation of 35 million, but it covers more than a third of Uzbek territory.
Protests erupted in Nukus on July 1 and 2 over a move to remove Karakalpakstan’s right, under the constitution, to hold a referendum on self-determination.
Hundreds of people were arrested.
The president accused “foreign forces” of being behind the unrest, without further explanation, before scrapping the proposed changes.
Mirziyoyev came to power in 2016 after the death of his predecessor, Islam Karimov.
He has pushed through significant economic and social reforms, but his regime is accused by aid organisations of trampling on people’s basic rights.
In early November, Human Rights Watch said the authorities “unjustifiably used lethal force … to disperse mainly peaceful demonstrators” after verifying dozens of videos and photos of the protests and victims.