`Show trial' sentences six to death

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The Independent Online
UZBEKISTAN HAS extended its dismal record as one of the most repressive of the new post-Soviet states after what has been condemned as "a show trial" in which six men were sentenced to death on charges of plotting to assassinate President Islam Karimov.

Sixteen others were jailed for between 10 and 20 years at a hearing in the capital, Tashkent,where, reportedly, defendants were denied access to their lawyers and convicted on confessions with no scientific evidence.

The Uzbek security services have been criticised in the past by human rights groups and others for using torture to obtain confessions.

The accused were arrested by the security services after six bombs exploded in Tashkent in February, killing 16 people and injuring 120. President Karimov, a former Communist Party boss known as "papa", declared the bombings to be an attempt on his life by Islamic militants.

Acacia Shields, of Human Rights Watch, who monitored each day of the hearings, said: "There were glaring irregularities in the trial. These included an absence of the presumption of innocence and denial of the right to legal counsel of their choice. The authorities neglected to present evidence to prove the defendants guilty." She described the proceedings as a "show trial".

The trial is also understood to have caused considerable concern, for similar reasons, in the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which is compiling an internal report on the issue.

During the trial, the defendants were kept inside an iron cage in the courtroom - a common practice in the former Soviet Union - and after con-viction were trailed to prison by a convoy of wailing relatives. They now have 10 days to appeal to the presidium of the Supreme Court.

After the February bombings, the government sharply increased its efforts to crush Islamic opposition groups. Human Rights Watch claims that the net was extended to include thousands of Uzbeks who were "terrorised" by the authorities, including Mikhail Ardzinov, a leading human rights activist.They arrested him as he made his way to the trial and held him for more than 13 hours. An examination by a doctor at the United States embassy found that he had two broken ribs, concussion and damaged kidneys.

Mr Karimov, elected in a highly suspect poll in 1991, won a referendum in 1995. The media is heavily censored and he controls the judiciary, security forces and parliament.