Uzbekistan: sentencing of human rights defender Dauletmurat Tajimuratov to 16 years in prison (joint communication)

The following is based on a communication written by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and other UN experts to the Government of Uzbekistan on 2 August 2023. The communication remained confidential for 60 days before being made public, giving the Government time to reply. Regrettably, the Government did not reply within this time frame. If a reply is received it will be posted on the UN Special Procedures communications database.

This is a shorter version of the original communication.

Read the full communication

BACKGROUND

Topic: the sentencing of human rights defender Mr. Dauletmurat Tajimuratov to sixteen years in prison, allegedly in connection with his work in defence of human rights.

Mr. Dauletmurat Tajimuratov is a Karakalpak human rights defender and lawyer. He is a prominent community leader in the autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan. In addition to this, Mr. Tajimuratov has worked as an editor for the newspaper “El Khyzmetinde” (In the Service of the People). As part of his human rights work, he has advocated for the rights of the Karakalpak national minority in Uzbekistan, particularly in the face of proposed legislation threatening the autonomous status of this people.

ALLEGATIONS

The case of Mr. Dauletmurat Tajimuratov:

On 26 June 2022, the President of Uzbekistan, Mr. Shavkat Mirziyoyev announced a series of constitutional amendments including the removal of the autonomous status of the Republic of Karakalpakstan.

On 30 June 2022, at around 3 p.m., Mr. Dauletmurat Tajimuratov publicly informed residents of Nukus about an upcoming peaceful protest due to take place, which concerned the aforementioned constitutional amendments. The human rights defender was one of the leaders of this intended peaceful protest in Nukus, the purpose of which was to protect Karakalpakstan’s autonomous status as an independent republic. Through his personal blog, the human rights defender encouraged people to peacefully gather in front of the local administration building on 5 July 2022. This protest was sanctioned by the Chairman of the Parliament of the Republic of Karakalpakstan.

On 1 July 2022, a large-scale peaceful protest was mobilised in the city of Nukus. Despite reports as to the peaceful nature of this assembly, it is alleged that the police intervened to disperse the participants. Crowd control weapons, including water cannons, rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas, were used. As a result of the protests, a one-month regional state of emergency and Internet shutdown was imposed in the autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan.

On 1 July 2022, Mr. Tajimuratov was arbitrarily arrested by Uzbekistani law enforcement officers from his house in Nukus, along with his relatives.

Uzbekistani law enforcement authorities detained Mr. Tajimuratov for several hours. During this detention, authorities subjected him to threats and physical assault, which may amount to torture or inhuman and degrading treatment. The authorities in question released him subsequently, as result of the public outcry in Nukus concerning his arrest.

Following this, on the same day, Mr. Dauletmurat Tajimuratov publicly revealed the violence that had been perpetrated against him by law enforcement authorities by publishing details of this in a video which he uploaded to his blog. In the video, he specified that he had suffered beatings to his chest. He also called once again on people in the Republic of Karakalpakstan to protest against the proposed constitutional amendments.

On 1 July 2022, in the evening between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m., Mr. Tajimuratov was arrested and detained once again by agents of the National Security Service. He has been arbitrarily detained ever since this time. His wife, daughter and his two brothers were also arbitrarily arrested.

Mr. Tajimuratov’s wife and daughter were released shortly after this. Furthermore, his brothers, who also had been arbitrarily arrested, were both released after 7 and 15 days of detention respectively, during which time they allegedly suffered physical violence, which may amount to torture or inhuman and degrading treatment. Mr. Tajimuratov, however, was taken to an unknown location. His whereabouts remained unknown for more than one month following this.

In early August 2022, officers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs informed Mr. Tajimuratov’s wife that Mr. Tajimuratov was being detained in a National Security Service prison, in Urgench.

On 6 September 2022, media sources in Uzbekistan reported that Mr. Tajimuratov was being held in pre-trial detention centre No. 11 in Urgench. We understand that he continues to be detained in this same pre-trial detention facility.

On 28 November 2022, Mr. Tajimuratov appeared before the Bukhara Regional Criminal Court for the first hearing in his criminal trial. He was accused of multiple charges under the Criminal Code of Uzbekistan. These include: “Intentional grievous bodily harm” as enshrined in article 104, paragraph 3(a); “Conspiracy to seize power or overthrow the constitutional order” as per article 159, paragraph 4; “Theft by embezzlement or misappropriation at a large scale”, as per article 167, paragraph 3(a); “Legalisation of proceeds of criminal activity” as per article 243; “Organisation of mass riots accompanied by violence” provided under article 244, paragraph 3; and finally “Preparation and dissemination of materials containing threat to public security and public order” enshrined in article 244-1, paragraph 1(a, b, g).

On 31 January 2023, Mr. Tajimuratov was sentenced to 16 years in prison in relation to these charges.

In April 2023, ahead of Mr. Tajimuratov’s appeal concerning the charges, the lawyer acting for him publicly urged authorities to cease the persecution of his client. The lawyer also stated that the conditions in the pre-trial detention centre No. 11 are in violation of the rights accorded to him under international law. He claimed that while in this detention centre, Mr. Dauletmurat Tajimuratov has been subjected to physical and psychological harassment by the detention facility officers. The lawyer also reported that Mr. Tajimuratov had suffered beatings on several occasions, that his head had been forcibly shaven, and that the detention officers had forced other detainees to intimidate and harass him.

Additionally, the lawyer reported that the living conditions experienced by Mr. Tajimuratov and the provisions made for detainees in the pre-trial detention centre No. 11 were unsatisfactory and inhumane.

It is noteworthy that the judge conducting the trial had previously been criticised by Mr. Tajimuratov in a video that he published to his YouTube channel in November 2021. In this video Mr. Tajimuratov denounced the judge’s alleged involvement in a corruption case. Should these allegations be correct, this would raise questions as to the right of due process afforded to Mr. Tajimuratov as part of his trial, namely over the fairness and impartiality of the ruling on the case.

On 5 June 2023, Mr. Tajimuratov appealed his sentence before the Higher Court of Uzbekistan. The Court ruled to uphold the decision of the Bukhara Regional Court to sentence Mr. Tajimuratov to sixteen years in prison.

Mr. Tajimuratov was reportedly tried along with twenty-two other Karakalpak protesters. While the sentences of the other protestors were reportedly favourably changed as part of this appeal trial, Mr. Tajimuratov’s sentence was the only one that remained unchanged.

Mr. Tajimuratov will reportedly spend the first two years of his sentence in a conventional prison before carrying out the remaining years of his sentence in a high-security detention facility.

CONCERNS

In the communication, we express our concern at the alleged arbitrary detention of Mr. Tajimuratov, as well as the long-term prison sentence issued against him, which appear to be related to his legitimate human rights work and the exercise of his right to freedom of opinion and expression, of peaceful assembly and association, namely in relation to the government’s policies on the Karakalpakstan people.

In particular, we also wish to express our sincere concern at the reported ill treatment of Mr. Tajimuratov, possibly amounting to torture, in particular the reported physical and psychological violations committed against him, in the form of beatings, threats and intimidation.

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