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Uzbekistan: Andijon Trial Follows Well-Established Pattern

  • Bruce Pannier --> Prosecutors of the Andijon case in court on 20 September The first 15 people accused of involvement in the May violence in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon have plead guilty. Their guilty pleas, registered as they appeared in a Tashkent court yesterday, provide an early indication that the court proceedings will follow a well-developed pattern for terrorism trials in Uzbekistan. RFE/RL speaks with a human rights defender who has attended previous terror trials in Uzbekistan to learn how the Andijon trials are likely to go from here.

Prague, 21 September 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The terrorism trial that opened in Tashkent yesterday is the first of several in connection with last May's violence in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon. More than 100 people are still being held awaiting their trial date.

Terrorism trials in Uzbekistan have followed a regular pattern since the first such trials started in 1999 after bombings in Tashkent. They include trials related to the incursions by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in 1999 and 2000, and the attacks in Bukhara and Tashkent in 2004.
"In these serious terrorism trials you also often find that the lawyers for the defendants insist upon their clients guilt, or simply go throughout the entire process silent rather than launching any kind of robust defense for their clients."

One person who has attended many of the trials is Acacia Shields, the senior researcher on Central Asia for the New York-based organization Human Rights Watch. She said yesterday's proceedings followed a standard format.

"This is really the launching event for not only a series of show trials, but the entire Uzbek government propaganda campaign which is an effort by the Uzbek government to rewrite the events that took place in Andijon in May," she said.

Some observers may find it surprising that all 15 defendants admitted to being "fully guilty" when asked to enter a plea.

But Shields says the history of previous terror trials gives defendants no reason to believe they would be found anything else but guilty once they enter the courtroom.

Shields said in the hundreds of trials she and her organization have documented there was not one example of a defendant in a terrorism trial being declared innocent.

And, Shields said, there are reasons for defendants to publicly admit guilt: "People are forced to confess in police custody. And just to explain how that process works, in past trials that we've documented not only are the defendants tortured to force them to confess but police torture the relatives of the defendants on trial to ensure these defendants do not talk about the torture, do not talk about their innocence, but stick to the script that's been given them by authorities."

Today, defendant Mukhitdin Sabirov identified the leaders of the violence in Andijon as exactly the same people previously accused by Tashkent.

Sabirov also confessed to training in neighboring Kyrgyzstan. That echoes an assertion by Uzbek investigators that the perpetrators of the Andijon violence trained next door but it is an assertion that Kyrgyz authorities absolutely reject.

Shields says Uzbek authorities regularly deny defendants even the moral support they could gain from having friends and relatives present in the courtroom. Instead, the courtrooms are filled with an audience hostile to the defendants.

"In many cases you find that the relatives of the people on trial are not allowed to actually attend the proceedings and that seems to have happened in the current case as well. Instead, the courtrooms are filled with security service agents and sometimes even witnesses for the prosecution who are allowed to stand up in classic show trial form and call for the death of the defendant. And this is something we've seen in past trials."

Shields said even defense attorneys sometimes seem indifferent to their clients' plight, or side with the prosecution.

"In these serious terrorism trials you also often find that the lawyers for the defendants insist upon their clients guilt, or simply go throughout the entire process silent rather than launching any kind of robust defense for their clients," she said.

Unlike previous trials, Shields said, representatives of human rights groups, media organizations and foreign governments were not permitted to be in the courtroom during yesterday's proceedings.

"Journalists and foreign diplomats, foreign trial monitors, seem to be consigned to a side room and are watching the proceedings on television. So they aren't going to have the opportunity to get up and approach the cage in which the defendants are being held and see whether or not there are marks of torture or other kinds of physical abuse as we've been able to do in the past."

The 15 defendants currently on trial face some 40 charges, many of which carry the death penalty. Shields notes that capital punishment is still legal in Uzbekistan and is carried out.

For all of the latest news on Andijon, see RFE/RL's Uzbekistan: Aftermath Of Andijon

See also a timeline of the events in Andijon