UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet today called for a prompt, independent and transparent investigation into the deaths of at least 18 people during clashes at protests in the Uzbek region of Karakalpakstan last Friday.
According to the Prosecutor General’s office, 18 people were killed and 243 injured, including 94 seriously, during the clashes between protesters and security forces in the regional capital Nukus. The identity of those killed was not immediately clear. They reportedly suffered bullet wounds to the head and body. It is feared the real number of casualties may be far higher.
“The reports we have received about serious violence, including killings, during the protests are very concerning. I call on the authorities to exercise utmost restraint,” said Bachelet.
“To ensure accountability, I urge the authorities to immediately open a transparent and independent investigation into any allegations of criminal acts committed in that context, including violations by agents of the state.”
Thousands protested around the autonomous region against planned constitutional changes that would have stripped the Republic of Karakalpakstan of its constitutional right to secede on the basis of a national-wide referendum held by the people of Karakalpakstan. The President said on Saturday those plans would be dropped.
After the violence, media reported a heavy military presence in the city, and the government has imposed emergency rule, including a curfew, and blocked the internet. The city was reportedly quiet over the weekend and on Monday.
Over 500 people were detained during and after the protests. The UN human rights chief expressed concern that one person had already been charged, and faced up to 20 years imprisonment “for conspiracy to seize power or overthrow the constitutional order”.
“People should not be criminalised for exercising their rights,” said Bachelet. “Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Uzbekistan is a State Party, everyone has the right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and the right to participate in public affairs.”
All detainees should have prompt access to a lawyer, and their due process and fair trial guarantees must be ensured, she added.
Bachelet urged the government to immediately lift the internet shutdown, saying such a measure has an indiscriminate reach and broadly impacts the fundamental rights to freedom of expression and to access information, among other rights.
She also reminded authorities that the restrictions under emergency law must abide by international law, and be necessary, proportionate and non-discriminatory. They also need to be limited in duration and key safeguards against excesses must be put in place.