Uzbekistan’s state prosecutor said on Friday it had charged a journalist with conspiracy to overthrow constitutional order after 18 died in unrest over proposals to weaken an autonomous region’s status.
The bloodshed in the Karakalpakstan region has seen President Shavkat Mirziyoyev walk back proposed constitutional amendments that would have removed the region’s right to hold a referendum on secession from Uzbekistan.
Mirziyoyev has claimed the unrest was planned years in advance with help from “outside forces”, while critics have fingered his government’s failure to consult the region’s public on the changes as the trigger.
The arrest of an ethnic Karakalpak journalist, Dauletmurat Tazhimuratov, last week was seen as contributing to a pro-autonomy protest of unprecedented size in the region’s administrative capital, Nukus, on July 1.
Facing 20 years in jail
Authorities released him in a bid to calm demonstrators but he was later re-arrested. The state prosecutor said on Friday he was one of two people detained on the charge which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment.
Tazhimuratov worked as editor of a regional newspaper and called for protests in Karakalpakstan prior to his arrest, private media in Uzbekistan said.
A statement from the state prosecutor said that another arrested journalist, Lalagul Kallykhanova, was suspected of “crimes against public safety” after making and publishing a video calling for secession.
The office said it had prioritised “the prevention of torture, violence and other cruel or degrading actions” in cases related to the unrest.
Separately, Mirziyoyev’s office on Friday announced the sacking of Zaynilobiddin Nizomiddinov as chief of staff, the first high-level dismissal since the beginning of the crisis in Karakalpakstan, where a state of emergency has been imposed.
The National Guard said more than 500 people were arrested during the unrest, some of whom have since been released.
Karakalpakstan, a region of two million people, takes its name from the minority Karakalpak people, who, like Uzbeks, are a majority-Muslim Turkic group.
The Karakalpak language is closer to the Kazakh spoken in neighbouring Kazakhstan than the Uzbek language used throughout Uzbekistan, a Central Asian country of about 35 million people.