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Rights Groups Demand Justice For Victims Of Andijon, 15 Years After Massacre

Residents walk past a burnt-out car following the unrest in the eastern Uzbek town of Andijon on May 13, 2005.
Residents walk past a burnt-out car following the unrest in the eastern Uzbek town of Andijon on May 13, 2005.

Fifteen years after the Andijon massacre in Uzbekistan, rights activists have urged the Central Asian country's leadership to openly investigate the killings of dozens of mainly peaceful demonstrators by security forces and armed soldiers in the eastern city.

The Sweden-based Civil Rights Defenders group said on May 13, 15 years to the day of the massacre, that no state or army official was held responsible for "brutally" suppressing the civilian protest in the city of Andijon."

"We urge Uzbek authorities to reverse its impunity record!" the group wrote on Twitter.

Andijon has become a symbol for the oppression that marked the reign of former Uzbek President Islam Karimov, who had led with an iron fist since before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

On the morning of May 13, 2005, a group of armed men -- some of them recently escaped from prison -- stormed into Andijon, killing some government officials and taking others hostage.

A peaceful protest involving hundreds of locals had been going on in Andijon for several days prior to the violence.

Order subsequently broke down and the armed group, the peaceful protesters, and curious residents of the city all mixed in the streets.

Tensions were already running high as just seven weeks earlier, Central Asian leaders had watched with great concern as Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev had been ousted from power in a popular revolution in late March.

Determined not to allow a similar events to play out in Uzbekistan, Karimov called in the military to restore order and a bloodbath ensued.

The Andijon Massacre -- What Happened?
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According to the government, 187 people were killed, most of them soldiers and insurrectionists. Civilian deaths, only about 60 according to the Prosecutor-General's Office, were attributed to the insurrectionists.

But eyewitness accounts pointed to a civilian casualty figure that was many times higher, with some estimates putting the figure well over 1,000 dead, with reports of mass graves being dug and bodies being flown to Russia. International calls for an independent investigation were rejected.

"Uzbekistan should implement the April 2020 [UN] Human Rights Committee recommendations and carry out an independent, impartial, thorough, and effective investigation to ensure a full, transparent, and credible account of the circumstances surrounding the Andijon events in 2005," Vladislav Lobanov, a senior research assistant with Human Rights Watch focusing on Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, wrote on Twitter on May 13.

After Karimov's death in 2016, current President Shavkat Mirziyoev, who was Karimov's prime minister at the time of the killings, carried out a series of comparatively liberal reforms and released many dissidents from prison, including journalists, who covered the bloodshed.

Uzbek officials, however, had more or less closed the book on the incident and had avoided talking about the violence until Deputy Prosecutor-General Svetlana Artykova gave an interview to the Uzbek news agency Qalampir on February 7, 2020.

Artykova, who participated in an investigation of the Andijon violence, said "innocent" people were shot in the incident, the first time such an admission had been made by an Uzbek government official.

Still, rights groups say, no new investigations have been launched into the Andijon massacre and many questions about the tragedy remain unanswered.

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