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Uzbekistan: Climate Of Fear Grips Andijon

  • Daniel Kimmage --> Uzbek soldiers in Andijon in May The outside world has received few accounts of life in Andijon since 12-13 May. In a series of reports broadcast on 10-12 August, RFE/RL provided a rare glimpse of the fear lurking behind the superficial normalcy that has settled over the city since the bloody events of May. Because of the fear of government reprisals, RFE/RL has concealed the identities of the people with whom it spoke.

"People are very afraid after the events on and before 13 May," one Andijon resident told RFE/RL. "Because many people were imprisoned after these events, no one can tell anyone else what they really think about government policies or the bad things that are happening. People are afraid of the government and afraid of their neighbors. The people who witnessed these events [on 13 May] were videotaped. Their houses have been searched and they've been called in for questioning. The soldiers wear masks over their faces. They treat even the women roughly."

A local woman confirmed that the fear has arisen in a climate of pervasive surveillance. "People are afraid to talk," she said. "While I was riding a bus..., a woman started talking about the Andijon events. She talked about how there were brains splattered on the ground in front of the administration building and how they paid people 1,000 soms [$1] an hour to clean them up. The woman got off when she reached her house. A young guy got off after her. She didn't make it 10 meters before he handcuffed her and then they led her off somewhere."
"The people who witnessed these events [on 13 May] were videotaped. Their houses have been searched and they've been called in for questioning. The soldiers wear masks over their faces."

Another woman described a similar incident. "Now there are more people in civilian clothes listening in on what people are saying," she said. "Recently, a woman was drinking carbonated water at Yangibozor [New Market] with a young child. She was telling the water vendor that the government organized the disturbances. A guy who was standing off to the side came up to the woman and pulled the woman by the hand. She started screaming. The young man pulled out a tape recorder and played back a recording of everything she'd been saying to the vendor. Then he took her away. Everyone watched."

A third woman in Andijon told RFE/RL that despite the massive security presence, people refuse to surrender their private thoughts. "There are special procedures in place in Andijon, in Boghishamol, around the prison, in the Soy neighborhood, and in front of the administration building," she said. "There are always armed soldiers wandering around there. But no matter how much the soldiers roam around, no matter how hard they try to strike fear and terror into the population, people can't erase their heartfelt desires."

The same woman described the security forces' brutality, manifested in a random killing. "[A youth] vanished at that time [on 13 May]," she said. "He didn't go to the war [the demonstration], but he must have been scared. He only turned up four days later. Police officers brought him to Andijon. They killed him and brought him in four days later.... Everyone in the neighborhood saw them bring him."

Andijon residents told RFE/RL that torture is common, although the torturers make efforts to cover their tracks. "There's a videotape of the people who took part in the demonstration," one local said. "If the people they arrest are on the videotape, they bring them down to a cellar and beat them brutally. Even the ones who aren't on the tape get beaten. Afterward, they make them sign a statement saying that they didn't harm them before they let them go."

Another woman recounted one case of torture that ended in death of a teenager. "He went out to watch on [13 May] and got shot in the shoulder," she said. "They brought the child to a clinic. After he'd been lying there for three days, they brought him to the police. Despite his wound, they stuck him in a filthy room for three days. There were so many people there wasn't enough room to sit or lie down. They really made this poor kid suffer. Then they gave him an injection and sent him home. After that they called him in for interrogation every day. That shot they gave him must have been a lethal injection, since he died after about a month and a half. The wound never healed and his bones crumbled. The day before he died, he told how he'd been tortured. Even though it's shameful, I'll say it: They sodomized him with a piece of metal and a billy club. While the child was in the hospital, he'd told people that the soldiers shot him. When they tortured him, they said it was so that he wouldn't tell anyone else."

With information scarce, the slightest events give rise to rumors. On 6 August, soldiers and police blocked off Andijon's main street, where the administration building is located. "After Akram Yuldoshev [the purported leader of the Akramiya extremist movement, accused by the Uzbek authorities of fomenting the violence in Andijon on 12-13 May] made a statement on Uzbek television, some people called up official offices and made threats," one local said, explaining the police cordon. "In order to increase security, they called military vehicles and security forces out into the streets."

But an elderly man had a different explanation. "Apparently, they were shooting a film about military actions in the Soy neighborhood," he said. "Fine, let them show the soldiers. But they should also show how the soldiers and tanks shot at people."

Security forces have stepped up arrests in the wake of violence in Andijon on 12-13 May. A woman in a village near Andijon told RFE/RL: "After those events, they said on television that anyone who found weapons and brought them in would get a 100,000 som [$100] reward. One of my relatives found two weapons. He believed them and brought them in. They arrested him. In fact, he had just found the weapons along the side of the road."

Another person told RFE/RL that once someone is imprisoned, appeals are useless. "They arrested my son and took him away from the house," the local said. "At the police station, he was forced to confess. His wife is at home with three children. Even if I wanted to look after them, I still have children of my own who aren't married yet. You know what the economy's like. Who's going to listen to our appeal? Who's going to defend us? We encounter oppression at every turn. The women are fed up; I mean, the women of those who are in prison. All of the adults know why the economy's so bad. Everyone's smart enough to figure it out. These men who are making life hard for the women, I wonder how they square it with their conscience. We say that our ruler is just, but I can't figure out how that's so. He's only just to those who help him. He hasn't achieved any justice for Muslims. But if people talk about this, they disappear along with their children and grandparents."

(Written in conjunction with RFE/RL's Uzbek Service.)

See also:

Voices From Andijon

Daily Life Continues In The Shadow Of Andijon

For RFE/RL's full coverage of events in Andijon and their aftermath, see "Unrest In Uzbekistan"