Western criticism of Uzbekistan for its bloody crackdown against antigovernment protesters in Andijon last May has reached a peak, with the European Union imposing an arms embargo and banning entry to top Uzbek officials. The move coincided with yesterday's sentencing of 15 men to up to 20 years in jail for terrorism, religious extremism, and anticonstitutional activity in connection with the uprising. The United States also rejected the verdicts as unfair and said the trial was not credible.
Prague, 15 November 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The trial and its verdict have broadened the already gaping rift between Uzbekistan and Western powers.
He says the West has helped drive Uzbekistan back into Russia's arms,
noting the Russian-Uzbek security pact signed yesterday in Moscow.
The Uzbek Supreme Court yesterday handed down long prison sentences to 15 men they say were behind the bloody uprising on 13 May in the eastern city of Andijon. Uzbekistan says they are militants who tried to overthrow the country's constitutional order. It says 187 people were killed in the violence, mainly militants and government troops.
Washington and Brussels dispute the Uzbek version of events, and say Uzbek security forces may have shot and killed hundreds of unarmed protesters. They have long been calling for an independent investigation into the incident, which Uzbek President Islam Karimov has refused to grant.
Coinciding with yesterday's verdict, the European Union imposed an arms embargo and an entry ban on 12 top Uzbek officials.
The EU says the visa ban is "aimed at those individuals who are directly responsible for the indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force in Andijon," and also for obstructing an independent inquiry into the incident.
Cristina Gallach, an EU spokeswoman for foreign policy, tells RFE/RL the bans are a measure of how seriously the bloc views the situation.
In Washington, the Andijon verdict was met with a critical statement from U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli: "We believe that these convictions are based on evidence that isn't credible and a trial that isn't fair. We've expressed those concerns about this case from the very beginning. And I would just reiterate the fact that there has never been an independent investigation into the Andijon incidents." The United States is also considering sanctions.
In Geneva, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour also criticized the trial, saying the 15 defendants must be allowed to appeal.
The verdict appears to have been met with skepticism by some inside Uzbekistan. RFE/RL spoke to one man in Tashkent today who said: "In my opinion, the trial didn't look like a trial at all. I watched it on TV. It was the same every day -- the very same talks, confessions. Defendants were like parrots repeating the same thing day after day."
Not everyone in the West believes the reaction of the Western powers is the right one, however.
Svante Cornell is the research director of the Central Asian and Caucasus Institute at Johns Hopkins University in the United States. "Isolating people and preventing them from traveling to the West and having contact with the West is probably the worst thing you can do."
Cornell says the West has failed to engage with those sections of Central Asian society which are the most opposed to reform but which most need to be influenced -- namely, the interior ministries and judicial systems: "Banning people from contact with the West is only going to strengthen the most corrupt, the most repressive and least reformist elements in these societies."
He says the West has helped drive Uzbekistan back into Russia's arms, noting the Russian-Uzbek security pact signed yesterday in Moscow.
(RFE/RL's Uzbek Service contributed to this feature.)
A dedicated webpage bringing together all of RFE/RL's coverage of the events in Andijon, Uzbekistan, in May 2005 and their continuing repercussions.
An annotated timeline
of the Andijon events and their repercussions.