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Rights Groups Lament Silence On Andijon 10 Years After Massacre

Residents pass burnt-out cars after the unrest in the eastern Uzbek town of Andijon on May 13, 2005.
Residents pass burnt-out cars after the unrest in the eastern Uzbek town of Andijon on May 13, 2005.

Ten years after the Andijon massacre in Uzbekistan, rights activists say the regime of Uzbek President Islam Karimov has frightened witnesses into silence -- including those who have sought refuge as exiles abroad.

A coalition of international rights groups has called for demonstrations outside some of Uzbekistan's European embassies to call attention to ongoing rights abuses since the May 13, 2005, killings, including the embassies in Berlin and London.

They say their biggest challenge is to make the world aware that Uzbek soldiers shot and killed hundreds of unarmed men, women, and children and then tried to cover up the massacre.

The killings came after weeks of peaceful protests in Andijon against the jailing of 23 businessmen that Tashkent accused of being extremist Islamists, but which the demonstrators said were being victimized for their political views.

Uzbek authorities put the death toll at 187 and said most of those killed were either armed terrorists or had been killed by terrorists.

But independent journalists and human rights groups, as well as many witnesses, insist that Uzbekistan's security forces gunned down as many as 1,000 people before secretly burying them in mass graves across the country.

Climate Of Fear

Reporters Without Borders says Karimov now maintains a fierce grip on society that eliminates any critical voices that could expose Uzbekistan's ongoing human rights violations.

Amnesty International says most witnesses of the Andijon massacre who are still in Uzbekistan have become reluctant to speak out because of a pervading climate of fear.

Amnesty researchers say systematic torture and other human rights abuses continue in the country, with an estimated 12,000 people now thought to be detained on politically motivated charges.

Human Rights Watch says even Uzbek refugees living in exile in Europe are intimidated by the fear of being tracked down by Karimov's security agents, or by concerns for the safety of their relatives back in Uzbekistan.

Human Rights Watch -- together with Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders, the International Federation for Human Rights, and other rights groups -- have been marking the May 13 anniversary by reiterating their decade-old call for Uzbekistan to allow an independent international investigation into the Andijon killings.

Following a protest outside Uzbekistan's embassy in Berlin on May 13, activists have also arranged a free screening of a documentary film about the massacre by British filmmaker Monica Whitlock, who was reporting on events in Uzbekistan leading up to the massacre 10 years ago.

Whitlock's film, called Through The Looking Glass: The Andijan Massacre, offers a view that differs significantly from the Uzbek government's official version of events.

In London, demonstrators also gathered outside Uzbekistan's embassy to call attention to the massacre and call for an independent investigation.

At all of the demonstrations, protesters lamented the gradual lifting of international sanctions that were imposed against Uzbekistan after the 2005 killings.

They've also expressed frustration that Karimov remains in power -- after being reelected in a March 2015 ballot criticized for irregularities and lack of any real competition.

Protesters have also criticized the United States and its NATO allies for not taking harsher measures against Uzbekistan while, at the same time, using the country as a transit point for military forces going in and out of Afghanistan.

The U.S. Embassy in Tashkent issued a statement on May 13 expressing "deepest sympathy to the families and friends of all those who lost their lives or suffered as a result" of the killings in Andijon.

It said the United States shared "many common goals with Uzbekistan" and remained "committed to encouraging accountability, reconciliation, democratic reforms, and the protection of human rights."

It also urged Karimov's regime "to fully implement its national and international human rights commitments."

Written by Ron Synovitz, with reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP,, and The Guardian
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