Karakalpak activist detained in Kazakhstan

Police in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Feb. 15 detained Aqylbek Muratbai, an activist who has been working to raise international awareness about the bloody crackdown on a mass protest in his native Karakalpakstan, an autonomous region of western Uzbekistan, in July 2022. It is feared that Kazakh authorities intend to deport him to Uzbekistan, where he could face a severe prison sentence. 

There are other such cases currently pending. In October 2022, Kazakh authorities detained four Karakalpak activists at the behest of Tashkent. Ziuar Mirmanbetova, Raisa Khudaibergenova, Zhangeldy Zhaksymbetov and Koshkarbai Toremuratov all stand accused by Uzbek authorities of seeking to undermine constitutional order in the country. Human Rights Watch has issued a statement urging Kazakh authorities not to extradite them. 

These arrests took place in the wake of the unrest that rocked the capital of Karakalpakstan, Nukus, and nearby towns and villages in the early days of that July. Spontaneous protests broke out against planned changes to Uzbekistan's constitution that would have diluted of the region's autonomy. The central government responded to the protests by mobilizing National Guard troops. At least 21 people, including four members of the security forces, were killed in the ensuing turmoil.

While it was demonstrators that suffered the largest share of the fatalities, it was protest leaders that incurred the penalties. The most prominent among them, Dauletmurat Tazhimuratov, a Karakalpak attorney and activist, was sentenced to 16 years in prison on charges of sowing unrest and advocating the secession of Karakalpakstan.

Muratbai has assiduously followed and documented the trial and subsequent appeals of Tazhimuratov and many other Karakalpak activists. He is notable for being one of few Karakalpak activists to communicate on social media in English, greatly extending the reach of his message. (EurasiaNet, FrontLine Defenders)