Prague, 14 November 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The court found the 15 defendants guilty under several articles of Uzbekistan's
Criminal Code. Twelve Uzbek citizens were sentenced to between 16 and 20 years in prison, while three Kyrgyz citizens were given 14 years each.
Judge Bakhtiyor Jamolov, the chairman of the three-judge panel, read the verdict over the course of five hours today amid a heavy police presence both inside the Supreme Court building itself and on nearby streets
"In accordance with Article 59 of the Criminal Code, Farhod Umarovich Hamidov is sentenced to 20 years in prison,"Jamolov said. "According to Article 34 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Farhod Umarovich Hamidov is defined as a very serious recidivist. He will serve a prison term in a special [high security] prison colony. His term started on 26 May 2005."
"Even Hitler didn't shoot people who raised the white flag. They fired.
I saw it with my own eyes. I swear on my four children -- they fired.
They did. It was a nightmare."
He continued: "As active members of Akramiya religious extremist organization, [they] aimed to overthrow the current constitutional order of the Republic of Uzbekistan, and create an Islamic state -- a caliphate -- and [therefore they] formed an armed criminal group that conducted many very serious crimes." Other Crimes
Those "serious crimes" include the alleged freeing of 23 local businessmen accused of membership in a religious Islamic group called Akramiya, the seizure of government buildings, and the death of police, soldiers, and civilians in an ensuing gun battle.
The defendants -- who all pled guilty under unclear circumstances -- said they "deserve to be killed twice" for their actions. But the prosecution had asked for the 15 men to be jailed for 15 to 20 years, something that surprised many observers since some crimes allow the death penalty under the country's current legislation. Similar religious trials have ended with much harsher verdicts.'Hyenas And Jackals'
Independent observers and human rights groups have called the proceedings a show trial, and some Western media outlets
have reported on accusations that Uzbek authorities are repressing peaceful Muslims. Deputy Prosecutor-General Anvar Nabiev previously compared these Western correspondents to "hyenas and jackals searching for carrion."
Indeed, today's verdict included references to the alleged role that foreign media have been accused of playing in spreading the "lies" told by the defendants. Chief Judge Jamolov: "They didn't write about real events, but disseminated biased information from those who they claimed were peaceful citizens demanding improved living conditions by protesting in the central square [of Andijon]. They also said that those people didn't have ties with religious extremists, and that the government troops opened fire on them. Thus, they distracted the attention of the world community."
The government says 187 people, including government troops and terrorists, died in May's uprising. Rights groups and
Western governments believe hundreds of others were killed, including many civilians, and women and children.
The trial began on 20 September and had proceeding relatively smoothly, with the defendants endorsing the government's version of events.A Woman's Conflicting Testimony
But the trial was stopped in its tracks on 14 October by the riveting testimony of Mahbuba Zokirova, a 33-year-old housewife from Andijon.
Zokirova took the stand and publicly contradicted the official version of events. She said that she and her children had gone for a walk when, out of curiosity, she decided to join those who had gathered in the city square. She said she was hoping to see Uzbek President Islam Karimov, who was believed to be on his way to talk to the protesters. That's when troops who had encircled the crowd started shooting at random.
She fled Andijon with her family to Kyrgyzstan. She compared the actions of Uzbek government troops at the border to those of the Nazis: "When we reached the town of Teshiktosh on the [Uzbek-Kyrgyz] border, no one had any weapons. There were women, old women, pregnant women, and children. They took headscarves and made white flags. The men said, 'They won't shoot. We'll send you, the women, across [the border]. If they shoot anyone, they'll shoot us.' When we went, they didn't pay any attention to the white flags. The worst part is, even Hitler didn't shoot people who raised the white flag. They fired. I saw it with my own eyes. I swear on my four children -- they fired. They did. It was a nightmare."
Harassment of independent media and opposition and rights activists has intensified in Uzbekistan during the course of the trial. The BBC closed its Uzbek office in Tashkent for at least six months due to security concerns. RFE/RL journalists have also been harassed. And last week, Aleksei Volosevich, a reporter for a pro-opposition website who had reported from Andijon on 13 May, said he was attacked
outside his apartment in Tashkent. In late October, the government jailed Sanjar Umarov, a leader of the Sunshine Uzbekistan secular opposition group.
Umarov had demanded an independent probe into the Andijon events, as have the United States and the European Union. The EU last month introduced an arms embargo against Uzbekistan similar to the one imposed on China following the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. The move came after Uzbek President Islam Karimov ruled out allegations of indiscriminate use of force in Andijon and refused to permit an independent investigation.
While the Uzbek court began reading its verdict today, Karimov was visiting Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin had previously expressed his support of Karimov's actions against "terrorists." Russia's daily "Kommersant" reported today that Karimov is expected to secure a pledge of military help from Putin to quell further unrest in Uzbekistan.