Uzbekistan puts 15 'terrorists' on trial for Andijan atrocity

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The Independent Online

The massacre in Andijan shocked the world and saw the hardline regime of Islam Karimov become a pariah state overnight.

Human rights campaigners claimed that up to 700 mostly unarmed civilians were mown down indiscriminately by Uzbek security forces anxious to clamp down on an anti-government demonstration which had turned violent.

Mr Karimov had a different version. He said that 187 people were killed, and blamed Islamist extremists who he accused of plotting to overthrow his government to establish a central Asian caliphate.

Most of those killed were, he claimed, "terrorists" who had long-planned his overthrow with the help of foreign extremists and radical Islamist groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and the Islamic Movement of Turkestan. Yesterday in the Uzbek capital Tashkent, a trial started of 15 of the men he accuses of being terrorists. Looking dazed and glum, all pleaded guilty.

Human rights groups alleged the men had been intimidated and forced into making confessions.

The men listened as the court was told how they had allegedly executed hostages and used civilians as human shields. They looked impassive as they were accused of a charges ranging from murder and rioting to being members of banned Islamist groups.

An Uzbek rights activist, Surat Ikramov, cast doubt on the legitimacy of the pleas, however, saying he believed the men had been tortured. "The authorities want to demonstrate at all costs that it was a terror attack, not a demonstration," said Mr Ikramov.

He said Andijan residents had been cowed into keeping quiet. "Those who suffered are forced to remain silent, and there's nobody else to talk."

The defendants' relatives were barred from the courtroom, in stark contrast to relatives of police and officials who were killed during the uprising who had been specially bussed in.

The testimony against them was damning. Sotiboldi Jalolov, whose 29-year-old son, a police officer, was shot by protesters, said he did not understand why "those terrorists attacked our young republic". Bakhtiyor Muradov, an official with the regional administration in Andijan, described how he was brutally beaten by one of the defendants while being held hostage. "They tortured and killed many other hostages," he said. "It was horrible."

Prosecutors said the men had been trained in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan and received funding from abroad - including from supporters in the Russian cities of Omsk and Ivanovo.

Prosecutors also accused Western reporters of helping the rebels by exaggerating the support they had and by casting their action as a peaceful demonstration.

Deputy Prosecutor General Anvar Nabiyev told the court that the extremist groups had "used so-called human rights organisations and foreign media to denounce Uzbekistan and blacken the activities of the Uzbek government."

Mr Karimov has firmly rejected calls for an international inquiry into the incident. Since the massacre he has become closer to Russia and China, but has seen his relations with the US deteriorate.