UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet called for Tuesday a swift, independent investigation into the deadly clashes at mass protests in Uzbekistan. Authorities in Uzbekistan said on Monday 18 people died in clashes in the autonomous Karakalpakstan region on Friday when 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 size of the protest was unprecedented for the region and possibly Uzbekistan. The central Asian country on Saturday decreed a month-long state of emergency in the impoverished western region where a large protest erupted Friday over the proposed changes. 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 the 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 reminded the authorities that the restrictions under emergency law must abide by international law, and be necessary, proportionate and non-discriminatory. They also need to be limited in duration and key safeguards against excesses must be put in place.