On 14 December, Uzbekistan’s Supreme Court announced the beginning of the first trial of Uzbek officials in connection with the bloodshed in Andijon in May, RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service reported. In a stark reminder of the gulf that now separates Uzbekistan from Western countries, which have called for an independent investigation of eyewitness accounts that Uzbek security services perpetrated a massacre in Andijon, the officials face charges not of employing excessive force, but rather of negligence in the performance of their duties.
On trial are 10 police officers, two prison medics, five prison guards, and 19 soldiers. One of the police on trial is Dilmurod Oqmirzaev, former head of the Interior Ministry’s Andijon section.
Most of the accused face charges of negligence on 12-13 May, when a group of armed men in Andijon carried out attacks on a local prison and army post before seizing the government administration building in the city center. The medics testified at an earlier trial that they supplied a mobile phone and relayed messages to Akram Yoldoshev, the jailed leader of the so-called Akramiya movement who Uzbek authorities have charged was behind the violence in Andijon. Elsewhere in Uzbekistan, 78 people are on trial for alleged direct involvement in the violence.
Behind Closed Doors
All of the trials are closed to the public, journalists, and human rights activists. In its statement, the Supreme Court said the measure was necessary to safeguard “state secrets in the criminal cases” and to guarantee “the security of victims, witnesses, and other trial participants.”
The first Andijon trial, which began on 20 September with guilty pleas from all 15 defendants and ended on 14 November with prison terms of 14-20 years, received heavy coverage from the international press. But as Human Rights Watch (HRW) noted in a 30 November press release on the organization’s website, the Uzbek government has blocked access to subsequent trials. Allison Gill, HRW’s representative in Tashkent, told RFE/RL why she thinks the authorities decided to clamp down.
“The government used the first trial as a theatrical spectacle to convey its version of events to the Uzbek people and the international community,” Gill said. “The trial was covered every day in detail by Uzbekistan’s state television channels, and foreign observers and correspondents were given permission to attend. But because the trial absolutely failed to meet fair-trial standards, it evoked very negative reactions. In order to prevent mounting criticism, the government decided to hold all further trials on the Andijon events behind closed doors. Moreover, there is the possibility, however small, that witnesses or defendants could open their mouths and say things that depart from the government’s script. This is why the trials are closed.”
‘Eliminate The Witnesses’
In Andijon itself, residents had their own reactions to the latest trial. “In the first place, the people on trial were witnesses to the events of 13 May,” one Andijon resident told RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service. “The most important task for Uzbekistan’s president today is to eliminate such witnesses because they could talk at some point in the future.”
The resident said he was personally acquainted with defendant Dilmurod Oqmirzaev, the former head of the Interior Ministry section in Andijon Province. “It’s now clear that evil, heartless men are coming to take the place of good police officers like Oqimirzaev,” the local said. “This is what they’re doing now to keep the people of Andijon in fear.”
Police Not To Blame
Asked about the actions of police on 13 May, the resident replied: “On 13 May, there were a lot of police in civilian dress and with white armbands. You could see on the faces of many police that they were being forced to do their work.” The individual said that some police showed a desire to join the demonstrators who gathered in the center of Andijon on 13 May, while others shouted at the protestors and threatened them with their weapons. He summed up, “Now the good police officers are on trial, while the ones who threatened the people with weapons are still doing their jobs.”
An elderly resident of Andijon told RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service that police conducted themselves honorably during the demonstrations that took place in Andijon before 13 May as a verdict neared in the trial of 23 businesspeople accused of membership of the Akramiya movement. “When our children were on trial, the police and their commanding officers were in the area,” she said. “We didn’t see them do anything bad.”
The woman asserted that the police were not responsible for the shooting on 13 May. “On 13 May in Andijon, it wasn’t the police, but the soldiers who shot at us,” she said. “The soldiers shot at us in Chulpon Street and in the village of Teshiktosh. We didn’t see any police or police commanders.”
Dilshodbek Tullakhujaev, the head of the Democratic Initiative Center in Andijon Province, told RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service that if any officials should be charged with dereliction of duty in connection with the events of 12-13 May, they should be from the National Security Service (SNB).
“When the attack began [on the night of 12 May], there were no commanders or officers on duty at the army post,” the man said. “As a result, they should be tried. But the heads of the provincial Interior Ministry section weren’t at fault. In my view, the main fault lies with the SNB. Now, the main job of the SNB is fighting against rights activists and democrats.”
From Human Rights Watch
Suit Filed in Germany Against Uzbek Minister Zokirjon Almatov
(Berlin, December 15, 2005) – Survivors of torture and the May 13 massacre of unarmed protesters in Andijan, Uzbekistan, filed a case on Monday in Germany calling for the prosecution of Zokirjon Almatov, Uzbekistan’s Minister of Internal Affairs, for crimes against humanity, Human Rights Watch said today. Almatov is in Germany receiving medical treatment.
“This case represents a unique opportunity to bring a measure of truth and justice for some of the horrors that occurred under the command of Zokirjon Almatov,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “While the victims could not safely seek justice in Uzbekistan, German law allows them to seek redress before a German court.”
German law recognizes universal jurisdiction for torture and crimes against humanity. This means that Germany can try and punish the perpetrators of such crimes, no matter where the crimes were committed, and regardless of the nationality of the perpetrators and victims.
Victims of abuse in Uzbekistan asked the German federal prosecutor to open a criminal investigation and pursue Almatov on three counts: individual crimes of torture, torture as a crime against humanity and the Andijan massacre as a crime against humanity. Crimes against humanity include widespread or systematic crimes against civilians, including murder and torture.
Human Rights Watch provided evidence to the prosecutor, supporting the
victims’ allegations against Almatov. Since the mid-1990s, Human Rights Watch has extensively documented the use of torture by police under Almatov’s command. Human Rights Watch also handed over evidence about the role of the police in the massacre of hundreds of civilians in Andijan in May 2005.
Almatov is accused of being responsible for the use of torture by police in places of pre-trial detention and in prisons, locations under his direct control.
Human Rights Watch said it is now up to the federal prosecutor of Germany to decide whether or not to open a criminal case against Almatov and pursue the matter.”The facts are there,” said Cartner. “If the prosecutor applies the law to the facts, Almatov will be arrested and tried in Germany.”
Germany has been a leader in creating accountability mechanisms for the most serious crimes under international law. The German government was a strong supporter of efforts to establish the International Criminal Court, and incorporated that court’s statute of international crimes into its own domestic law. This commitment to international justice reflects Germany’s struggle to come to terms with its own history and its recognition of the importance of bringing to justice those responsible for crimes such as mass slaughter, forced displacement on ethnic grounds and rape as a weapon of war.
“Germany has been a strong supporter of the International Criminal Court and its investigations in Africa,” added Cartner. “With the Almatov case, Germany has the chance to demonstrate its commitment by bringing justice through its own courts.”
In 2002, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture found torture in Uzbekistan to be “systematic.” Methods of torture that police use against people in detention include beatings with truncheons, electric shock, hanging people by their wrists or ankles, rape and sexual humiliation,asphyxiation with plastic bags and gas masks, and threats of physical harm to relatives.
One of the cases Human Rights Watch brought to the prosecutor’s attention was that of Muzafar Avazov, who died in August 2002 after having been immersed in boiling water in Jaslyk prison, run by the Ministry of Internal Affairs. He was arrested on charges of religious extremism.
Almatov also commanded the troops who bore primary responsibility for the mass killings that marked the bloodiest day in Uzbekistan’s recent history.
On May 13, 2005, in Andijan, thousands of protesters, almost all unarmed, were surrounded by troops from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, as well as other security forces. Without warning, these forces opened fire on the crowd, killing and wounding hundreds. Those who tried to escape were mowed down by a waiting flank of government troops or were picked off by snipers posted atop surrounding buildings. Witnesses have said that the fleeing civilians did not stand a chance against the government’s firepower.
One eyewitness to the bloodshed, who saw people shot and killed all around him, told Human Rights Watch, “It was almost impossible to survive.” He said that the day after the slaughter, police walked among the bodies remaining on the ground and asked, “Who is wounded?” When those still living answered, “I am,” the officers fired single shots at them from guns with silencers, killing them. Those who could manage it fled the scene and crossed the border into Kyrgyzstan, and eventually to safety.
“Survivors of the massacre in Andijan have been brave enough to come forward with their memories of that horrible day,” said Cartner.
“They are asking for justice, and they deserve nothing less.”
For further information and background see the following Q & A
London – Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jack Straw was hit with a new probe Thursday into how much he and the government knew about alleged US “extraordinary rendition” flights of suspected terrorists.
Members of parliament dissatisfied with Straw’s previous statements on the controversial issue submitted a series of questions in the lower House of Commons and are demanding a fuller response.
Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government said Monday it had found no evidence of any American requests to fly terror suspects through Britain since September 11, 2001.
It has also repeatedly stated its opposition to torture, but Blair flatly refused Wednesday to query every US government flight coming into and leaving Britain, dismissing the suggestion as “completely absurd”.
MP Andrew Tyrie, from the main opposition Conservatives, said there was a “real risk” the government could find itself “complicit by inaction”.
“Turning a blind eye becomes something more than negligence and may be shown to be unlawful,” he told a London news conference.
He also called for the Security and Intelligence Committee, made up of senior MPs to investigate issues of national security, to look into the affair, which has concerned human rights groups and several European Union countries.
Lynne Jones, a rebel MP from Blair’s ruling Labour Party, said: “The longer this goes on, the more the government is brought into disrepute.
“It would be better if the government showed it was taking this seriously and investigating properly, rather than raising smokescreens.”
The questions ask Straw to specify whether the White House was asked why detainees were transferred to countries known to commit torture and to state how many transfers took place through British airspace.
Others include whether “blanket permission” had been granted for “extraordinary rendition” flights and if Straw’s check of flight records encompassed landings at military airfields and other private facilities.
It also called for the criteria under which it would refuse access to British facilities and airspace to be published.
Washington has come under fire over the last six weeks from reports about hundreds of Central Intelligence Agency flights, suspected of carrying undeclared prisoners across European airspace, since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.