Rights group says hundreds remain jailed over Uzbekistan unrest

Open Dialogue Foundation says more than 300 people remain detained after deadly unrest gripped the republic of Karakalpakstan this month.

Uzbek service members are seen in Nukus, capital of the northwestern Karakalpakstan region, Uzbekistan [File: Reuters]

Hundreds of people are still in detention in Uzbekistan after deadly unrest this month in the republic of Karakalpakstan over a proposal to strip the region of its autonomous status, a rights group said.

Fourteen protesters and four law enforcement officers were killed in the violence, the authorities have said, blaming it on unspecified “foreign forces”. It was the deadliest unrest since 2005 in the Central Asian country, a former Soviet republic with a record of clamping down hard on dissent.

A state of emergency in Karakalpakstan, which entailed a curfew and limited online connectivity, ended early on Thursday after Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev lifted it almost two weeks ahead of schedule.

Open Dialogue Foundation (ODF), a European-based human rights group, said more than 300 of the 367 people who were arrested during the unrest remained behind bars as of July 20.

ODF researcher Lyudmyla Kozlovska also said dozens of people were still missing. The Uzbek Prosecutor General’s Office this week dismissed a list of missing persons published by ODF as incorrect.

The authorities have not said how many people remained in detention.

Following the protests, Mirziyoyev ordered his government to drop plans to revise Karakalpakstan’s legal status as part of a constitutional reform.

On Thursday, the president reiterated the official stance on the unrest, telling a meeting of fellow Central Asia leaders that the unrest “confirmed the existence of destructive forces who are trying to derail our plans, sow chaos and instability in our region”.

Human rights activists and opposition politicians have denied the violence was directed from abroad and rejected statements by the authorities that demonstrators were high on drugs and alcohol.

Pulat Ahunov, an Uzbek opposition politician based in Sweden, said he welcomed the lifting of the emergency but urged the authorities to go further.

“They also need to release all the demonstrators who were detained, and an ombudsman’s commission needs to investigate the use of disproportionate force against demonstrators,” he told the Reuters news agency.

With an area larger than Tunisia, Karakalpakstan has a population of just 1.8 million people but makes up more than a third of Uzbek territory. The republic is blighted by health and environmental problems resulting from intensive Soviet-era farming methods and the drying-up of the Aral Sea.

Map of Uzbekistan showing Karakalpakstan

Source: Reuters