Uzbekistan moves into Moscow's camp as 'show trial' convicts 15

By Andrew Osborn in Moscow 
Published: 15 November 2005

Harsh jail sentences have been imposed on 15 alleged
Islamist plotters in Uzbekistan in a case described by
rights groups as the Andijan massacre show trial. 

Uzbekistan's supreme court found all 15 men guilty of
murder, rioting, hostage-taking, membership of banned
Islamist groups and attempting to establish an
Islamist caliphate in the town of Andijan, where up to
700 people were killed by security forces in May.

The men, who pleaded guilty during a five-hour session
in which they were confined in a metal cage, face from
14 to 20 years in prison.

Human rights groups have dismissed the government's
version of events, and the evidence of a
state-orchestrated massacre has shamed previous allies
of President Islam Karimov in Washington and London
into demanding action from Uzbekistan. But Mr Karimov
has been received with open arms in Moscow, where he
and President Vladimir Putin signed a military pact
yesterday pledging mutual help in fighting security

Campaigners say the 15 men are scapegoats for a
civilian massacre, that they were tortured into
confessing, and that their trial resembled Stalin's
show trials of the 1930s.

The attempted "coup" was brutally put down by Uzbek
security forces whom human rights groups accuse of
turning their fire on civilians and of mowing down
between 500 and 700 people, most of them unarmed.

Mr Karimov's hardline regime, which became a pariah
state overnight, insists that only 187 people were
killed and that most of the dead were "terrorists" who
were planning to overthrow the government with the
help of foreign extremists and radical Islamist groups
such as Hizb ut-Tahrir, the Islamic Movement of
Uzbekistan, and the Islamic Movement of Turkmenistan.
It said it had no choice but to get tough.

The court in Tashkent, the Uzbek capital, sentenced
five of the defendants to 20 years' jail, one to 18
years, three to 17 years, two to 16 and the other four
to 14 years. The judge said the men had planned to
blow up a mountain pass sealing off the volatile
Ferghana valley, where Andijan is located. He repeated
government allegations that foreign media had
exaggerated the event and acted irresponsibly by
portraying the "coup" as a peaceful demonstration.

The trial has been condemned by the United Nations
Commission on Human Rights, which has pointed to
serious procedural problems, such as the fact that the
15 men were not cross-examined by independent lawyers.

America's discomfort with the massacre saw relations
between Tashkent and Washington deteriorate and led to
Mr Karimov asking the US military to shut down an air
base in the south-east of the country.

Earlier this year the European Union imposed "smart
sanctions" on Tashkent after Uzbekistan rejected calls
for an international inquiry into Andijan.

At the same time, Mr Karimov's relations with Russia
have improved. Yesterday Mr Karimov was welcomed at
the Kremlin by Mr Putin where they signed a strategic
military alliance which gives Russia back some of the
influence it lost in Uzbekistan when the Soviet Union
collapsed in 1991. Under the terms of the pact the two
countries have the right to offer assistance to one
another and use each other's military facilities in
the event of a crisis or third party aggression. 


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