Uzbek folk singer receives suspended sentence for song about Andijan crackdown

From Fox23 News

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan (AP) – A dissident Uzbek folk singer has been given a three-year suspended sentence for writing a song about last year’s bloody crackdown of an uprising in the city of Andijan, his lawyer said Monday.

Dadakhon Khasanov was convicted Friday by the Tashkent Criminal Court, which then suspended his sentence provided he does not write politically motivated songs or poems, defense attorney Surat Ikramov told The Associated Press. Ikramov dismissed the trial as “theatrical” and “absurd.”

Khasanov, 66, whose trial began in July, was forced to sign away ownership of his house and car, and he turned down legal defense after pressure from the Interior Ministry, Ikramov said. Khasanov faced official accusations of insulting President Islam Karimov and disseminating illegal information.

Days after government troops opened fire on protesters in the eastern city of Andijan on May 13, 2005, Khasanov composed the “Andijan song,” whose lyrics included the words: “Children died, red like tulips in spring. … We tested our ruler, he turned out to be a terrorist. … Dictators will keep on shooting until the Uzbeks sleep.”

Rights groups and witnesses say hundreds of mostly unarmed protesters were killed by government forces in Andijan; authorities insist 187 died and blamed Islamic radicals for instigating the violence.

It is unclear how widely Khasanov’s song has been distributed; it was recorded on tape and has been passed mainly person-to-person. At one point, U.S.-funded Radio Liberty played it every time they reported on the Andijan events, and the criminal case against Khasanov was opened after a police officer heard it on a bus in the western city of Bukhara.

Two men in Bukhara were convicted in early August to four and seven years in prison, respectively, after they were caught listening to the song on a tape.

Khasanov, who began his artistic career in the 1960s, was often at odds with Soviet authorities and was briefly arrested in 1976. In the early 1990s, he became one of the founders of an opposition party that has been banned by Karimov’s government.

Since 1992 Khasanov has been prohibited from performing in public and his songs have been banned from music stores and radio stations.

More than 250 men have been sentenced to long prison sentences in the uprising, while the government expelled dozens of foreign aid groups and media outlets accused of waging “an information war against Uzbekistan’s fledgling democracy.”

Karimov, a former Communist boss, has ruled Uzbekistan with an iron fist, wiping out dissent and eliminating opposition. He has rejected calls for an international investigation of the Andijan uprising.