Uzbek singer on trial for song about massacre

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The Independent Online

A dissident musician who recorded a pop song about the government of Uzbekistan's failure to recognise the severity of the Andijan massacre has gone on trial for slander in the central Asian republic.

Dadakhon Khasanov, who composed "Andijan" in the aftermath of the uprising which was brutally put down by Uzbek authorities, is accused of insulting President Islam Karimov, and of infringing upon the national constitution.

The trial opened at the city court in Tashkent yesterday morning, but was adjourned within minutes when defence lawyer Surat Ikramov demanded that the song's lyrics be examined by linguists.

"They want to keep my tongue tied, so I don't write songs against this dictatorship," Mr Khasanov said.

The 66-year-old singer, who has been under house arrest since April, composed the track days after government troops opened fire on crowds of demonstrators on 13 May, 2005.

It is unclear how widely the song was distributed; certainly widely enough for an off-duty police officer to initiate the proceedings after hearing it on a bus. One radio station, US-funded Radio Liberty, played the track every time it reported on the incident in Andijan.

While the Uzbek government insists that fewer than 200 died in Andijan, Human Rights Watch says "bullets were falling like rain" and that hundreds of demonstrators were gunned down.

The lyrics of "Andijan" read: "Don't say you haven't seen how Andijan was drowned in blood ... The victims fell like mulberries, the children's bloodied bodies were like tulips."

Mr Khasanov, who began his artistic career in the 1960s, was often at odds with Soviet authorities and was briefly arrested in 1976. In the early 1990s, he became one of the founders of opposition Birlik party, which has been banned by Mr Karimov's government.

Mr Karimov has ruled Uzbekistan with an iron fist since 1989, wiping out dissent and eliminating opposition. He continues to reject calls for an international inquiry into the Andijan uprising.