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Karakalpak activists seized in Almaty


Two Karakalpak activists have been seized in Almaty by Uzbek security forces and may be forcibly removed to Uzbek territory.

On the night of 13-14 September, two activists from Karakalpakstan living in Kazakhstan were kidnapped in Almaty. This was reported by the Shyrak Information Centre, established by members of the Karakalpak democracy movement.

At about 12 a.m., several men in civilian clothes were able to enter the apartment where Zhankeldi Zhaksymbetov, who poses as leader of the unregistered Azatlyk party, resided and took him away to an unknown destination. Karakalpak activists living in Kazakhstan believe Uzbek security services were behind the abduction.

Earlier that evening, at 10 p.m., dissident and blogger Koshkarbai Toremuratov was abducted in the same way. “According to his wife Galiya, two men in civilian clothes knocked on the door at night. They called for Koshkarbai and said they were taking him away because they had questions and would release him later”, the statement said. A few hours later Koshkarbay himself called home and informed that he was being taken to Uzbekistan. An officer of the Uzbek Interior Ministry, Lieutenant Colonel Nikolai Babaniyazov, came to pick him up and charged him under Article 244/1 of the Uzbek Criminal Code on “Production, distribution and display of materials containing threats to public security and public order” and Article 159 on “Encroachment on the constitutional order of the Republic of Uzbekistan”.

The Shyrak Information Centre notes that Nikolai Babaniyazov led and participated in the detention and torture of a number of civil society activists in Karakalpakstan. This was confirmed by several released civil activists whose names are cited in the press release.

Koshkarbai Toremuratov founded the Youtube channel PIKIR in 2017, as further described in the press release. He has previously been detained several times by Kazakh law enforcement agencies or special services at the request of Uzbek authorities. In 2014, he was arrested in Uzbekistan while travelling to his mother’s funeral and was released from prison on parole in 2017. He then returned to Kazakhstan, where he has a wife (a Kazakh national) and two minor children.

At the end of September, the annual OSCE Human Dimension Conference takes place in Warsaw. This year, Toremuratov intended to attend to expose the crimes committed by the Uzbek authorities in suppressing protests in Karakalpakstan.

Following the violent suppression of Karakalpakstan protests in July this year, in which Tashkent attempted to deny the constitutionally guaranteed autonomy of the region and it’s possibility of secession from the Republic of Uzbekistan, the security services launched a crackdown on opposition and civil activists in Karakalpakstan.

Officially, 18 people were killed and 243 injured during the crackdown on protesters. However, independent sources in Karakalpakstan claim that there were many more casualties and that dozens of arrested protesters were tortured and put into special camps.

Kazakhstan often allows the security services of neighbouring authoritarian countries to operate freely on its territory in order to harass and abduct opposition activists and journalists from these republics.