Kazakh authorities have refused to grant asylum to two Karakalpak activists who face extradition to Uzbekistan, where supporters say they would face serious risk of politically motivated prosecution and torture over last year’s mass protests in Uzbekistan’s Karakalpak Autonomous Republic.
A Karakalpak activist based in Kazakhstan, Aqylbek Muratbai, wrote on X social network, formerly known as Twitter, on August 14, that asylum requests filed by Koshkarbai Toremuratov and Zhangeldy Zhaksymbetov had been rejected on July 31 but only became known now.
Kazakh officials have not announced the decision.
Toremuratov and Zhaksymbetov were arrested in September 2022 at the request of Uzbek officials, who accused the two men of undermining of Uzbekistan’s constitutional order.
In January, an Uzbek court sentenced 22 Karakalpak activists to prison terms on charges including undermining the constitutional order for taking part in the mass protests in Karakalpakstan in July last year.
In March, another 39 Karakalpak activists accused of taking part in the protests in the region’s capital, Nukus, were convicted, with 28 of them sentenced to prison terms of between five and 11 years. Eleven defendants were handed parole-like sentences.
Uzbek authorities say 21 people died in Karakalpakstan during the protests, which were sparked by the announcement of a planned change to the constitution that would have undermined the region’s right to self-determination.
However, the Austria-based Freedom for Eurasia human rights group said last month that at least 70 people were killed during the unrest.
The violence forced President Shavkat Mirziyoev to make a rare about-face and scrap the proposal.
Mirziyoev accused “foreign forces” of being behind the unrest, without further explanation, before backing away from the proposed changes.
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.
The European Union has called for an independent investigation into the violence.