TASHKENT - A court in Uzbekistan sentenced 22 people to various prison terms on Tuesday over the deadly unrest in the autonomous Karakalpakstan republic last July, the country’s Supreme Court said.
Twenty-one people were killed in the unrest triggered by plans to curtail the province's autonomy; Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the president of the Central Asian nation, scrapped the plan amid the protests.
The aftermath of the violence presented a dilemma to Mirziyoyev about whether to reinforce the authority of his government or to soften its stance in line with the more liberal image he has long sought to present to the West.
The defendants were found guilty on Tuesday of charges that ranged from hooliganism to encroachment on the constitutional order in the country of 36 million people.
The main defendant, Dauletmurat Tajimuratov, a lawyer who was accused of being the leader of the riots, has been sentenced to 16 years in prison. Tajimuratov, 44, was the only one who had not fully pleaded guilty and denied charges such as paying people to attend the protests.
Another key defendant, journalist Lolagul Kallikhanova, 34, was handed a suspended three-year sentence and set free in the courtroom.
The trial, conducted in the city of Bukhara, started on Nov. 28 and most of the sessions were broadcast live to the press room at the court building and online.
At the beginning of the trial, almost all defendants, except for Tajimuratov, repented and expressed their apologies to the state, the parliament and to Mirziyoyev.
The president has blamed unspecified "foreign forces" for instigating the unrest.
(Reporting by Mukhammadsharif Mamatkulov, editing by Ed Osmond)