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Uzbekistan: Islamic Militant Trial Ends

Uzbekistan has completed a high-profile trial against the leaders of an international terrorist group. The Uzbek government seemed to be using the trial to demonstrate to the world community that it is actively fighting terrorism. But RFE/RL correspondent Bruce Pannier reports international human-rights monitors say the trial was flawed and will only earn the country more condemnation.

Prague, 23 November 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Uzbekistan's Supreme Court has found 12 men guilty of being involved in an Islamic terrorist organization.

The court last week handed down death sentences for two men, and gave the others prison terms ranging from 12 to 20 years. Nine of the 12 men are not in Uzbekistan and were tried in abstentia.

The defendants were accused of leading the terrorist group known as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, or IMU. The charges included terrorism, treason, and leading armed attacks that killed 73 people.

IMU leaders Takhir Yuldash and Jumaboy Khojayev -- better known to the outside world as Juma Namangani -- were sentenced to death. Neither was present at the trial.

The leader of the banned Erk Democratic Party, Mohammad Solih, once a presidential candidate in Uzbekistan, was sentenced to more than 15 years in prison. He, too, was not in the courtroom.

The international group Human Rights Watch monitored the legal proceedings. A spokeswoman for the group, Cassandra Cavanaugh, says the trial was unfair for several reasons.

"We concluded that this trial was far from meeting international or even Uzbek standards for fair trials. One of the basic principles of the right to have a fair trial is that defendants should be present, that they should be fully aware and informed about the charges against them, and that they should have a chance to prepare an adequate defense. And for the nine defendants tried in absentia none of these conditions were the case."

Cavanaugh says Solih is widely considered a political refugee and that no country is likely to extradite him to Uzbekistan to serve his sentence.

She says Uzbek authorities were probably hoping the trial would earn them credit for fighting terrorism. The U.S. government added the IMU to its list of recognized terrorist groups two months ago. But Cavanaugh says the faults of the trial are more likely to tarnish the country's image:

"The defendants were very clearly presumed to be guilty. That's a clear problem that's been noted by the UN committee against torture and other organizations."

The IMU first made its presence known in February 1999, when the group -- known by other names at the time -- set off several bombs in Tashkent, killing 16 people and injuring more than 100.

According to Uzbek authorities, the explosives were meant to kill Uzbek President Islam Karimov. Karimov was close to where one bomb exploded but escaped unharmed.

Since then, the IMU has made armed forays into Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan on several occasions, killing dozens of Uzbek and Kyrgyz government soldiers. The Uzbek government says the IMU gets support from Afghanistan's Taliban movement.

Many governments in Central Asia and elsewhere sympathize with Uzbekistan's security problem, although some admit the Uzbek government's repressive measures have played a role in creating the problem. Cavanaugh says there are already attempts underway to mobilize international support against Uzbekistan for its poor human-rights record.

(Zamira Echanova of the Uzbek Service contributed to this report)