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Uzbekistan: Rights Groups Urge Andijon Investigation

The Andijon violence in May Two leading human rights organizations have criticized the government of Uzbekistan, accusing it covering up the killing of hundreds of civilians in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon last May. As the trial began on 20 September in Uzbekistan of 15 people accused by the authorities of involvement in the Andijon events, London-based Amnesty International and New York-based Human Rights Watch called on the United States and the European Union to increase pressure for an international investigation into what really happened.

Prague, 20 September 2005 (RFE/RL) -- In reports timed to coincide with the opening of the Andijon trial, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have accused Uzbek authorities of unrelenting persecution of anyone who tries to tell the truth about what happened in Andijon.

Amnesty's researcher on Uzbekistan, Maisy Weicherding, says the government has launched a vicious campaign of violence and intimidation.

"The government is trying very hard to put out their version of events of what happened in Andijon and is preventing anyone else from getting to the actual truth of what happened in Andijon," Weicherding said. "They are laying siege to the truth."

She says their aim is to ensure that nobody challenges the government's claim that the Andijon events were an attempted uprising by armed and dangerous Islamic extremists.

The Trial Begins

In Tashkent on 20 September, 15 men accused of plotting what authorities call a “bloody rebellion” went on trial. They sat in a metal cage in a packed courtroom in the Supreme Court as Anvar Nabiev, deputy prosecutor-general, read out charges against them including terrorism, hostage-taking, murder and an attempted coup.

The 15 men are the first of more than 100 people facing trial.

Uzbek authorities deny that their troops fired on unarmed civilians, and say 187 people died in the clashes on 13 May. That’s three to four times fewer than the number of victims claimed by rights groups and independent observers.

According to eyewitness reports, security forces fired indiscriminately into crowds of thousands of demonstrators -- most of whom were unarmed civilians.

Journalists Under Scrutiny

Amnesty's report details the lengths to which the Uzbek government of President Islam Karimov has gone to prevent information that contradicts the official version of events from reaching the outside world: forced confessions, intimidation of eye-witnesses, detention without trial, torture, and physical assault. Weicherding says journalists have been singled out for particular attention.

"A lot of them have been threatened, some of them have been beaten up, some of them have been taken into custody and some of them have been forced to leave the country," she said. "For example, Galima Bukharbaeva, who was in Andijon and gave a lot of interviews to CNN and others and who was then later vilified in the press and called a traitor and who had to leave the country. Similarly, one of her colleagues, Tulkin Karaev, who was also working for International War and Peace Reporting."
"The government is trying very hard to put out their version of events of what happened in Andijon. They are laying siege to the truth." -- activist Maisy Weicherding

RFE/RL Uzbek Service correspondent Gafordjan Yuldashev reported from Andijon on the events of May but has since had to leave the country because of fears for his life. He recalls how the police picked him up in July.

"They shoved me into a deserted courtyard and began to search my bag," Yuldashev said. "They pulled out my tape recorder and camera, exposed all my photographs, and removed the tape from the recorder. When I said I was from Andijon, they said: 'If you want to stay alive, you better leave here.’"

The acting head of RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, Sojida Djakhfarova, says Yuldashev's experience is typical of the sort of pressure the bureau has been under since the Andijon events. She says authorities are withholding accreditation from RFE/RL staff and subjecting them to intimidation.

"Before expiration of our accreditation, at least five or six people were constantly threatened by the security service," Djakhfarova said. "They say: 'Are you still alive? Are you still alive?' This situation makes our correspondents reluctant to touch more sensitive issues like the Andijon events, like human rights issues. People are just scared."

Others too have had to cut back their operations in Uzbekistan.

"Since the unrest in Andijon, our staff in Uzbekistan have been subjected to a campaign of harassment and intimidation," said Behrouz Afagh-Tabrizi, the head of the Eurasia Region of the BBC World Service. "Our main correspondent had to leave back in June because she was under government pressure and being threatened. A further six BBC staff members have also had to leave the country after they received threats and were harassed from the authorities, and two of them have been granted refugee status by the United Nations."

Avoiding A Confrontation?

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty accuse the United States and Europe of avoiding confrontation with the Uzbek government. The time has come, they say, for the international community to take a more robust approach.

Both organizations are calling on Washington and Brussels to impose sanctions on Uzbekistan, including an arms embargo, a visa ban on senior Uzbek officials and the suspension of trade privileges. They also urge stepped up pressure for an international investigation into the Andijon events.

For RFE/RL's full coverage of the Andijon trials, see "Aftermath Of Andijon"

Factbox: Andijon Timeline

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