Police and prosecutors in Uzbekistan, one of the world’s most tightly controlled countries, don’t often speak publicly about ongoing investigations.
A probe into the violent death of a Tashkent medical student, however, has become a notable exception.
Family and friends of 17-year-old Zhasur Ibragimov allege that he was bullied and severely beaten by six fellow students at Borovsky Medical College in Tashkent on May 3. The teenager died of his injuries a month later.
Police in the Uzbek capital have confirmed that Ibragimov’s death was caused by "intentional, serious bodily injury."
Police and prosecutors say they have made arrests in the case but have given no further details. The director of the college has reportedly been dismissed from her post, along with two deputies.
Meanwhile, the country's prosecutor-general, Ikhtiyor Abdullaev, has vowed to "personally control the ongoing probe" into the killing, the prosecutor’s office said on its website.
The forthright reactions by officials in Uzbekistan came after Ibragimov’s death sparked a public outcry and a rare protest rally in Tashkent on June 4, in which hundreds of people demanded that police take action and bring the perpetrators to justice. The deputy head of the Tashkent police, Doniyor Tashkhodzhaev, even came to meet with demonstrators, a highly unusual move.
Irina Zaidman, a rally organizer, said that some 30 police officers were present at the rally. Zaidman told RFE/RL that a group of protesters, including the parents of the victim, were taken to a police station, but only to reassure them that police were investigating the case.
"Police officials treated us with respect," Zaidman said. "They promised that all those involved in this crime will be punished."
The case has also prompted angry comments and condemnations on social media, with calls for the government to swiftly punish the attackers and tackle bullying.
Around 20,000 people have so far signed a petition written by the victim's parents that calls on Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyaev to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Ibragimov's mother, Nilufar Alieva, wrote that her son, who "studied well, didn't drink, didn't smoke, and actively took part in sports events" became a victim of bullying by fellow students. She said her son’s body was covered in blood and bruises, with his forehead, nose, and knees smashed and several internal organs badly damaged.
Alieva claims that at least two of the alleged attackers are known for humiliating, beating, and taking photos of their victims.
The Tashkent office of the UN's Children's Fund (UNICEF) offered its condolences on Ibragimov’s death.
"Bullying in educational institutions is becoming an increasingly alarming issue all over the world, and turns children into victims of violence everyday, everywhere," UNICEF representative Sascha Graumann said in a statement.
The agency urged teachers and parents, among others, to take action against bullying.