Prague, 27 December 2005 (RFE/RL) -- In an interview with RFE/RL, Svetlana Ortiqova, a spokeswoman for Uzbekistan’s Prosecutor-General's Office, said investigations into the Andijon uprising, as well as the current trials related to the violence, have been conducted in accordance with the law.
"There is no doubt that terror acts were committed in Andijon. [The Prosecutor-General's Office) wants to tell the world community that all legal procedures were observed during the early investigation of the terrorist acts and other very severe crimes in Andijon. Investigation of the crimes, which involved human casualties, was performed according to the strictest requirements of criminal procedures," Ortiqova said.
'Very Good Reason To Worry'
Ortiqova's statement came after UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour raised concerns on 23 December about a trial that had concluded the day before with the convictions of 37 men for their involvement in Andijon.
"If the latest proceedings were anything like the trial that resulted in the conviction of the first 15 defendants last month, there is very good reason to worry," Arbour said. She said the Uzbek trials risk unjust and unfounded convictions, while the real perpetrators of atrocities remain unpunished.
So far, 151 people have been convicted in Uzbekistan in connection with the Andijon violence. Among them are 19 soldiers and five policemen found guilty on 23 December for negligence and dereliction of duty.
All but one of the trials have been held behind closed doors. Foreign journalists accredited by the Uzbek Foreign Ministry were allowed to make a single visit to one of the closed-door hearings earlier this month, following criticism by human rights watchdogs.
Behind Closed Doors
Uzbekistan’s Supreme Court says the trials are being held behind closed doors because some evidence and testimony includes state secrets, as well as to protect defendants and witnesses.
"I say with full responsibility that all trials, with the exception of trials which concern sexual crimes and crimes concerning state secrets, are open," Prosecutor-General's Office spokeswoman Ortiqova told RFE/RL.
The first trial, which ended in mid-November, was open to local observers, rights campaigners, and foreign journalists and diplomats. International human-rights watchdogs called it a "show trial." But independent observers say Uzbek authorities likely decided to hold succeeding trials behind closed doors after the first hearing in the Supreme Court took an unexpected turn.
That was when one eyewitness to the Andijon violence -- Mahbuba Zokirova, a 33-year-old housewife -- refused to parrot the official line. In open court, she accused government troops of opening fire on unarmed women and children in Andijon.
Charges Of 'Systematic' Torture
The trial ended with the convictions of all 15 defendants on charges of organizing and executing the uprising. They were sentenced to jail terms of between 12 and 22 years.
Rights watchdogs expressed concern, saying the confessions by the 15 men might have been extracted under torture. The UN's former special rapporteur on torture, Theo van Boven, visited Uzbekistan in late 2002 and concluded that torture was "systematic" in the country’s prisons and detention facilities. Van Boven said last week that recommendations he had made after a 2002 fact-finding mission remain unfulfilled.
In a statement published by the U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW) on 23 December, van Boven said, "torture in custody, both pretrial and postconviction, remains rampant, while its perpetrators continue to go unpunished."
HRW, which filed a suit in Germany earlier this month against former Uzbek Interior Minister Zokir Almatov for human-rights abuses, also said that "torture occurs with near total impunity in Uzbekistan, leaving its victims with no real prospects for redress there."
Uzbekistan’s Interior Ministry denied those charges yesterday, saying such criticism is "completely groundless."
The UN’s top human rights body has said the Andijon trials should be observed by international monitors to ensure that the rights of defendants are not violated. Jose Luis Diaz, a spokesman for the UN's high commissioner on human rights, recently told RFE/RL: "The high commissioner for human rights would like to have an observer at the trials, at the ongoing and future trials, of persons accused of crimes committed in connection with the events in Andijon in mid-May. And that would be basically to ascertain whether these proceedings are being held in compliance with international fair trial guarantees."
Meanwhile, Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General Kambaraly Kongantiev reiterated today that four Uzbeks who escaped the Andijon violence and sought refuge in Kyrgyzstan may be extradited to Uzbekistan.
Uzbek officials say 187 people, mostly foreign-paid terrorists seeking to overthrow the government and law-enforcement officers, were killed in the Andijon violence. According to rights activists and witness accounts, the death toll may be in the hundreds, including many women and children.
Uzbekistan has rejected calls from the United Nations, European Union, and United States for an independent probe.
(RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service contributed to this report.)