HRW says Kazakhstan authorities should not deport Karakalpak activists to Uzbekistan


ASTANA — Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on October 14 that Kazakh authorities should not extradite four Karakalpak diaspora activists to Uzbekistan, where they would face a serious risk of politically motivated prosecution and torture, RFE/RL reported.

The New York-based rights organization said all four activists – who emigrated to Kazakhstan a year ago – have advocated for protecting the sovereignty of Uzbekistan’s Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan, where protests erupted earlier this year over proposed constitutional amendments.

“Uzbek authorities appear to be targeting diaspora Karakalpak activists as part of their heavy-handed response to the July protests in Karakalpakstan,” Mihra Rittmann, senior Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement on October 14.

“There is no doubt these activists face a serious risk of torture and politically motivated prosecution if forcibly returned to Uzbekistan,” she said, “and Kazakhstan is legally prohibited from sending them back in such circumstances.”

Rittman said Kazakh authorities should refuse the request and release the activists.

Acting on information that the activists were placed on an international wanted list by Uzbek authorities, Kazakh police detained the four activists from the Karakalpak diaspora in Almaty between September 13 and October 5, HRW said.

The four were identified as Koshkarbai Toremuratov, a dissident blogger; Zhangeldy Zhaksymbetov, an opposition figure; Raisa Khudaibergenova, a cardiologist; and activist Ziyuar Mirmanbetova.

The charges against them have not been made public. But a Karakalpak activist in Almaty, Akylbek Muratov, who has seen several documents pertaining to the charges, told HRW that the four are wanted by Uzbekistan for alleged offenses against the state.

Mass protests took place in Karakalpakstan in early July after changes initiated by Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev were proposed to the Uzbek Constitution. The changes included the removal of an article that guaranteed the right of Karakalpakstan to seek independence should its citizens choose to do so in a referendum.

The European Union has called for an independent investigation into the violent events in Karakalpakstan that, according to Uzbek authorities, left 21 people dead.

Karakalpaks are a Central Asian Turkic-speaking people. Their region used to be an autonomous area within Kazakhstan before becoming autonomous within the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic in 1930 and then part of Uzbekistan in 1936.