New trial over anti-regime protests opens in Uzbekistan

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TASHKENT: More than three dozen people went on trial in Uzbekistan on Monday on charges linked to deadly anti-government protests that have already seen several people handed jail terms this year.

The demonstrations last summer in the ex-Soviet republic in Central Asian forced a rare U-turn from autocratic leader Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who scrapped plans to change the constitution that had sparked the demonstrations.

The reforms would have undermined self-determination in Uzbekistan´s western republic of Karakalpakstan and the protests against them in July officially left 21 people dead. The 39 defendants that went on trial on Monday are accused of various charges including “public unrest” and illegally obtaining firearms through assault, which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison, the Supreme Court said.

Prosecutors said in December last year that 171 people total were under investigation over the protests. At the first trial related to the protests last week, 16 defendants received jail terms of between three and 16 years.

One of the defendants, who was sentenced to six years in prison, on Saturday died of a heart attack while in detention at the age of 45, the prosecution said. He was an official in the local interior ministry during the demonstrations and the son of a former local leader.

The hearings are taking place in Bukhara, around 600 kilometres (370 miles) from the national capital Tashkent. Karakalpakstan is home to fewer than two million people out of a nation of 35 million but the territory covers more than a third of Uzbekistan.

It has its own parliament, council of ministers, flag and anthem. President Mirziyoyev accused “foreign forces” of propelling the July unrest without elaborating. He came to power in 2016 after the death of his autocratic predecessor, Islam Karimov. He has pushed through economic and social reforms but his regime is accused by rights groups of trampling basic freedoms.

Source: The News