PRAGUE, April 13, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- An Uzbek court today cut nearly three years off the prison term for the leader of the Sunshine Uzbekistan opposition movement, Sanjar Umarov.
The decision, made after an appeal by Umarov's lawyer, means that Umarov faces seven years and eight months in prison rather than 10 and a half years.
"His state was so weak, so strange. If you see him, you can't look at him without pitying him."
Umarov was sentenced on March 6 for economic crimes, including "large-scale embezzlement," money laundering, and tax evasion. Umarov was also ordered to pay over $8 million in fines and when he emerges from prison he will be barred from any business activities for three years.
But Umarov's appearance in court has dispelled any relief at the ruling.
Andrea Berg, a member of the international watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW), says that when she last saw Umarov in court, on March 6, "he was greeting everybody, he was talking to his relatives, to his lawyer."
This time, by contrast, he looked at the floor the entire time and greeted no one. "He was sometimes smiling, sometimes crying," says Berg. His behavior, which she described as distant and "very strange," prompted her to express concern about his health.
Rights activists had previously voiced concern that Umarov might have been injected with psychotropic drugs.
Surat Ikramov, the head of Center for Human Rights Initiatives in Tashkent, said he believes the opposition leader was also drugged on this occasion.
"Most of us think some psychotropic drugs were used," said Ikramov. "His state was so weak, so strange. If you see him, you can't look at him without pitying him."
Ikramov, who has been monitoring the trial since it started in late January, said Umarov's behavior in recent hearings has been peculiar.
Umarov's lawyer has complained that his client's health is deteriorating and demanded that Umarov receive medical treatment.
Doctors established that Umavor suffers from high blood pressure and heart problems, but ruled that Umarov was able to attend court proceedings.
An Oligarch Turned Opposition Leader
Nodira Hidoyatova, an imprisoned colleague of Sanjar Umarov (courtesy photo)
A 50-year-old oil and cotton oligarch with business interests in Uzbekistan and the West, Umarov has headed the Sunshine Uzbekistan since it was formed in April 2005 -- in the wake of a revolution in neighboring Kyrgyzstan -- and one month before a bloody crackdown on demonstrators i in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon last May.
Umarov declared Sunshine Uzbekistan a moderate and secular opposition when he founded the movement and called on President Islam Karimov to dismiss the government and form a new cabinet that would implement economic reforms.
Following the bloodshed in Andijon, when the government troops opened fire on a large crowd of men, women, and children protesters after armed militants seized a government building, the Sunshine Uzbekistan coalition became vocal in its criticism of the Uzbek government. It echoed calls from the United States and the European Union to conduct an independent probe into the bloodshed, which the HRW labeled a "massacre."
The Uzbek government rejected the demands, saying that 187 people, mostly "foreign-paid terrorists," died in Andijon. Rights groups say many hundreds died, most of them civilians.
Umarov also wrote a letter to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, calling for stronger ties with Russia and declaring his intention to seek a solution to the current political crisis in Uzbekistan.
However, Umarov has denied his intention to lead a "color revolution" in Uzbekistan.
He was detained in late October after visiting the United States. Charges included "large-scale embezzlement."
Another prominent member of Sunshine Uzbekistan, Nodira Hidoyatova, a coordinator for the group, was in March jailed for 10 years after being found guilty of belonging to a criminal group and committing economic crimes.
Umarov's lawyer, Vitaly Krasilovsky, today said he will appeal to the Supreme Court. Krasilovsky believes prosecutors failed to prove any of the charges against his client, who maintains his innocence.
(RFE/RL's Uzbek Service contributed to this report.)
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