Central Asia Theater
Human rights groups have strongly condemned the ruling by Uzbekistan's supreme court finding 15 defendants guilty of terrorism and sentencing them up to 20 years for their role in the May violence in Andijan. "It was expected and some could even have been given the death penalty, but as the case had received such wide international publicity the authorities did not dare to give capital sentences," said Tolib Yakubov, head of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan (HRSU). "The trial was orchestrated."
Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev defends his use of force to put down unrest in the country's prisons, which cost four lives on Nov. 1. "Police did the right thing when they demanded that suspects and other inmates leave the prison for interrogations," said Bakiev. "[The inmates] refused to come out. [Law-enforcement officers] approached them to meet and they [the convicts] started shooting. Should they have been presented bagels in response?" (BBC, Nov. 2)
The BBC is suspending its operations in Uzbekistan due to security concerns. All local staff are being withdrawn and the office in the capital Tashkent will close for at least six months pending a decision on its future. Regional BBC head Behrouz Afagh said the staff had been harassed and intimidated in recent months. "Over the past four months since the unrest in Andijan, BBC staff in Uzbekistan have been subjected to a campaign of harassment and intimidation which has made it very difficult for them to report on events in the country."
Sanjar Umarov, a prominent opposition leader in Uzbekistan, was arrested Oct. 22 on embezzlement charges, and is being held incommunicado. Members of his group, Sunshine Uzbekistan say they still do not know the exact whereabouts of their leader. The group, which is calling for free market reforms in the authoritarian Central Asian republic, says the charges are fabricated. The offices of the opposition group were searched by dozens of plainclothes police the same day as the arrest, and a large number of documents were taken away. Two other members of the group have also been arrested.
Authorities in Uzbekistan are threatening to force dissident Elena Urlaeva to submit to immediate treatment with powerful psychotropic drugseven though an initial psychiatric commission had declared her sane. The case against Urlaeva is the latest in the Uzbek government's deepening repression of human rights defenders and independent political activists in the aftermath of the May 13 massacre at Andijan.
A witness at the trial of 15 people accused of organizing a rebellion in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon testified that government troops opened fire on civilians during the crisis. It marks the first time in the trial that a witness has contradicted the government's version of events. Mahbuba Zokirova told the court that on May 13 she and her children had gone for a walk when, out of curiosity, she decided to join the protesters in the city square.
The US military, recently booted from Uzbekistan, has been granted long-term access to Kyrgyzstan, BBC reported Oct. 11. The deal followed talks between US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and President Kurmanbek Bakiev in Bishkek. Kyrgyzstan had earlier urged the US to set a timetable for its withdrawal from military bases in Central Asia.
A defendant in the ongoing trial of the alleged organizers of the May violence in Andijon, Uzbekistan, testified Sept. 26 that the US Embassy in Tashkent might have financed it, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Uzbek Service reported. Tavakkal Hojiev told the court that he heard from Qobil Parpiev, who has been identified by Uzbek authorities as one of the masterminds behind the violence, that the US Embassy provided funds for the uprising in Andijon. Queried by a lawyer for additional details, Hojiev said: "A big sum went for weapons and cars.