Accessibility links

Breaking News

Uzbekistan: 'Terror' Trial Likely To Hold Few Surprises

The trial of 15 people accused of complicity in the violence in Uzbekistan in late March and early April started yesterday in Tashkent. The conduct of the trial is already following a pattern made familiar in previous court cases dealing with alleged Islamic radicals. Those cases were used to justify the government's continued crackdown on what it called religious extremism.

Prague, 27 July 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The current trial is one of several resulting from the events of this spring, in which a wave of violence attributed to Islamic radicals swept through two Uzbek cities, claiming nearly 50 lives.

Few details are known about the attacks. Observers say some of the 15 defendants now on trial may have in fact played a role in the deadly violence. But they say the dubious history of Uzbek jurisprudence makes it difficult to believe the whole truth will be revealed in court.

Alex Vatanka, a risk analyst with the London-based "Jane's Sentinel Security Assessments" publication, has followed events in Uzbekistan for several years.

"There is a likelihood that some of these people were partly or fully involved in some of the charges that were brought against them," Vatanka said. "But because of the total lack of transparency, and because of the previous reputation [of the Uzbek government] and the way the international community has been criticizing the Uzbek government, whatever comes out of it, people will say 'this is what was expected.'"
According to the charges, the accused underwent training at Al-Qaeda bases in Waziristan, Pakistan.

The defendants stand charged with violating 17 articles of the Uzbek legal code, including attempting to overthrow the government and constitutional structure of Uzbekistan, and planning to replace it with an Islamic caliphate.

During the trial's first day yesterday, the media was allowed into the courtroom, but the proceedings were not recorded.

Rakhmatjon Kuldashev, a correspondent for RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, attended the opening session and recounted the words of the prosecutor, Murad Salikhov.

"As it was written in the charges, they, according to the charges, underwent training at Al-Qaeda bases in Waziristan, Pakistan. This was a terrorist group," Kuldashev said, citing Salikhov.

Salikhov said the state, in presenting its case, said the defendants -- 13 men and two women, all between the ages of 22 and 40 -- were, quote, "manipulated by extremist forces, misrepresented Islam, forced women to join criminal groups, created zombies, and urged followers to use armed resistance and to kill themselves for their beliefs."

According to news sources, the first defendant to testify was 24-year-old Furkat Yusupov. He is reported to have testified that he helped send 14 people to be trained in Pakistan and Kazakhstan, and gave details about the militant training he and others received.

This testimony appears to reflect almost precisely conclusions reached by investigators within days of the March-April events. Prosecutor-General Rashid Kadyrov at the time was quick to accuse the participants of having been trained by Al-Qaeda militants.

In the country's Tashkent bombings of February 1999, the initial conclusions of investigators also matched, nearly exactly, the testimony of defendants in courtrooms months later.

Uzbek authorities have also been eager to prove links between Waziristan and militants in Uzbekistan.

Pakistani officials had reported earlier this year that Tahir Yuldash -- one of the leaders of the radical Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) -- was in Waziristan and had been wounded in fighting with Pakistani security forces.

Uzbek authorities were quick to seize on this information and draw links between events in Uzbekistan and Pakistan.

The prosecution yesterday omitted any mention of Yuldash, although he was mentioned in the court texts.

Rights activists have accused the state of torturing defendants in previous terror trials in order to force confessions favorable for the prosecution.

There is concern the pattern has continued with the current trial.

Surat Ikramov, of the Independent Human Rights Defenders in Uzbekistan, said the group had interviewed relatives of the defendants and had reason to believe torture had been used to extract confessions.

At least 45 defendants are ultimately scheduled to go on trial for the events of April and March.

(Adolat Najimova and Oktambek Karimov of the Uzbek Service contributed to this report.)

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

If you are in Russia and hold a Russian passport or are a stateless person residing permanently in Russia, please note that you could face fines or imprisonment for sharing, liking, commenting on, or saving our content, or for contacting us.

To find out more, click here.