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Osh Judge Hands Down Five Life Sentences In High-Profile Trial From June Violence

  • Daisy Sindelar

Ten ethnic Uzbek men await their sentencing inside a holding cage in the courtroom in Osh. Five of the men received life sentences for the brutal murders.

Ten ethnic Uzbek men await their sentencing inside a holding cage in the courtroom in Osh. Five of the men received life sentences for the brutal murders.

OSH -- A judge in southern Kyrgyzstan has sentenced five ethnic Uzbek men to life in prison for their role in the brutal murder of a Kyrgyz district police chief and his driver during the ethnic clashes that rocked the region in June.

Judge Bakyt Usupbekov of the Kara-Suu district court in Osh Oblast ruled that all but one of the 10 ethnic Uzbeks on trial were guilty of participating in the June 13 killing of Adylbek Sultanov, the head of police in Kara-Suu, as well as his driver, Uran Shamurzaev. The trial was held at a military base in Osh in order to be more accessible to the victims' relatives.

Four of the defendants received lighter sentences ranging from four to 25 years. A 10th man, Dilshat Akhrorov, was referred to psychological experts for screening after concerns about his mental stability arose during the trial.

Prosecutors had asked that life sentences be handed down to eight of the 10 defendants. State prosecutor Kalmamat Bektashev said he was disappointed with the ruling and was planning to appeal.

"I'm satisfied with the sentences for the most part," Bektashev said. "But I'm disappointed in the decision regarding Akhrorov because we know that his behavior before the trial started in September was perfectly normal."

Defendants Silent

The verdict was delivered in a packed courtroom, with many of the victims' colleagues and relatives in attendance, including Sultanov's wife and mother. Many onlookers could be seen weeping throughout the proceedings.

Kalmamat Bektashev, the chief prosecutor in the trial: "I'm satisfied for the most part..."

The defendants, standing inside a holding cage with their heads bowed, remained largely silent during the 40-minute sentencing, although one could be seen to break down in tears.

Today's sentencing comes amid a wave of trials following the June unrest between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in Osh and its environs. More than 400 people, both Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, were killed in the violence.

The murders of Sultanov and Shamurzaev have gained special resonance in the region because of the particularly brutal nature of their deaths.

The two men had traveled to the village of Nariman in an effort to stop clashes that had broken out there between Kyrgyz and Uzbek residents. There, they were attacked and brutally beaten before the police chief was locked in the trunk of a car and burned alive. His driver was then decapitated. Both bodies were further mutilated after their deaths.

Life in prison is the strongest sentence a court can hand down in Kyrgyzstan. But Gulzada Sultanova, the wife of the victim, said she felt that life imprisonment was not sufficient for some of the defendants.

"I don't agree with the sentences," she said. "They all should have been given life sentences, and the ones who actually did the killing should be killed themselves."

Courtroom Violence

The gruesome killings have angered many Kyrgyz, to the degree that the trial has been shut down on several occasions because of courtroom violence.

Gulzada Sultanova, the widow of murdered police chief Adylbek Sultanov: "I don't agree with the sentences."

Kyrgyz onlookers physically attacked several of the defendants on the first day of the trial on September 29. The next day, one of the defendants' Kyrgyz lawyers, Kair Asanov, was assaulted despite the presence of police. The trial resumed only on October 19.

The lawyers representing the defendants have announced they will also appeal the ruling over the course of the next 10 days. Tair Asanov has said his client, Mirzakhit Saliev, was forced to confess to the murder after being physically intimidated.

The case has prompted strong criticism from lawyers and human rights groups, which say that Kyrgyz prosecutors are allowing local emotions to derail court proceedings.

On a broader scale, observers have also noted that virtually all the trials to date have involved ethnic Uzbek, not Kyrgyz, defendants, despite the fact that Kyrgyz also participated in the June violence. A number of Uzbek neighborhoods were torched or otherwise vandalized during the violence, and hundreds of thousands of people fled from Osh and surrounding regions.

Aside from the defendants, there were no Uzbeks in attendance at today's sentencing. Prior to the reading of the verdict, the 10 men -- most in their 20s -- sat silently as several of the victims' relatives yelled angrily in their direction.

At one point, Sultanov's mother, a tiny woman in a green head scarf, approached the cage and shouted at the men, pounding her first on the table. "Whoever killed my son, you might as well kill me as well," she said, adding that another of her sons had died of a heart attack after hearing the news. "I have no reason to live."

Sabyr Abdulmomunov of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report

Relatives of Adylbek Sultanov await the sentencing in the Osh courtroom.

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