The court sentenced 22 people to various prison terms for last year’s riots in which 21 people died.
A court in Uzbekistan has sentenced 22 people, including a journalist, to various prison terms over deadly unrest in the autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan last July.
Twenty-one people were killed in protests fueled by plans to limit the province’s autonomy. Those plans were eventually rejected by Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev amid demonstrations.
The aftermath of the violence presented a dilemma for Mirziyoyev about whether to strengthen his government’s authority or soften its stance in line with the more liberal image he has long tried to present to the West.
The defendants were found guilty on Tuesday of charges ranging from hooliganism to encroaching on the constitutional order in the country of 36 million people.
The main defendant, Dauletmurat Tajimuratov, a lawyer accused of leading the riot, was sentenced to 16 years in prison. Tajimuratov, 44, was the only one who did not fully plead guilty and denied allegations such as paying people to attend rallies.
Another key defendant, journalist Lolagul Kallikhanova, 34, was sentenced to a suspended three-year sentence and was released in court.
Steve Swerdlow, a human rights lawyer and expert on Uzbekistan affairs, wrote on Twitter that while the defendants were given lengthy sentences, “there is no indication that authorities plan to charge any law enforcement officials at all” for the 21 deaths.
Karakalpakstan is home to fewer than two million people out of a nation of 35 million, but covers more than a third of Uzbekistan’s territory.
The impoverished region is closely linked to the drying up of the Aral Sea, one of the world’s greatest man-made environmental disasters.
Karakalpakstan has its own parliament, council of ministers, flag and anthem.
The trial, held in the city of Bukhara, began on November 28, with most of the sessions broadcast live in the courthouse’s press room and online.
At the beginning of the trial, almost all the defendants, except Tajimuratov, repented and apologized to the state, parliament and Mirziyoyev.
The president blamed unspecified “foreign forces” for inciting protests that erupted on July 1 and 2 last year and arrested hundreds of people.
Mirziyoyev came to power in 2016 after the death of his predecessor, Islam Karimov.
He has pushed through significant economic and social reforms, but human rights groups accuse his government of trampling on people’s basic rights.
In early November, Human Rights Watch said authorities “unjustifiably used lethal force … to disperse largely peaceful protesters” after reviewing dozens of videos and photos of protests and victims.