UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet and the United States both called Tuesday for a swift investigation into the deadly clashes at mass protests in Uzbekistan.
Authorities in Uzbekistan said Monday that 18 people had died in clashes in the autonomous Karakalpakstan region on Friday after demonstrations erupted over planned constitutional changes affecting the territory’s status.
The unrest, pitting protesters against security forces, represented the most significant challenge yet to the rule of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev since he rose to power from the post of prime minister in 2016, when long-serving mentor Islam Karimov died.
“The reports we have received about serious violence, including killings, during the protests are very concerning. I call on the authorities to exercise utmost restraint,” Bachelet said in a statement.
“I urge the authorities to immediately open a transparent and independent investigation into any allegations of criminal acts committed in that context, including violations by agents of the state.”
The United States separately voiced concern and urged all sides to seek a “peaceful resolution” to the tensions.
“We urge authorities to pursue a full, credible and transparent investigation into the violence, consistent with international norms and best practices,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
– Support from Russia –
Uzbekistan is a former Soviet republic and traditional ally of Russia, which has been facing international pressure over its invasion of Ukraine.
The Kremlin said that President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday spoke by telephone with Mirziyoyev and “expressed support for the efforts of the leadership of Uzbekistan to stabilise the situation in Karakalpakstan”.
The size of the protest was unusually large for Central Asia, and prompted Uzbek authorities to decree a month-long state of emergency in the impoverished western region.
Bachelet said over 500 people were detained and voiced concern that one person had already been charged, and could face up to 20 years imprisonment.
“People should not be criminalised for exercising their rights,” the former Chilean president said.
“Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Uzbekistan is a state party, everyone has the right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and the right to participate in public affairs.”
All detainees should have prompt access to a lawyer, and their due process and fair trial guarantees must be ensured, said the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Bachelet urged the government to lift an internet shutdown immediately, saying the measure had an indiscriminate reach and broadly impacted upon the fundamental rights to freedom of expression and to access information.
She also said that restrictions under emergency law must be proportionate and limited in duration.