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In Southern Kyrgyzstan, “SOS” Leads to Jail Time

A call for help or a punishable offense?

A court in southern Kyrgyzstan has sentenced two ethnic Uzbeks to three years in prison for writing “SOS” on the gate of a private home during June’s deadly clashes between the region’s Uzbeks and Kyrgyz, AKIpress reported Friday. The Kara-Suu District Court ruled that Uktomjan Ahmatjanov and Islamjan Husanov had incited interethnic conflict by spreading rumors that troops from neighboring Uzbekistan would come to the aid of local Uzbeks and by painting the SOS sign to help these forces – actions the court deemed to have turned Uzbeks against Kyrgyz. The men were accused of committing their crime on June 12, when many Uzbek neighborhoods had already barricaded themselves against armed mobs.

The conviction adds to a growing list of guilty verdicts against ethnic Uzbeks, who, rights advocates fear, may be getting a disproportionate share of the punishment for June’s clashes, which killed hundreds and displaced thousands. While both ethnic groups unquestionably took part in and suffered from the violence, a recent report by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty noted that all 24 defendants in three major June-related trials (not including the SOS case) were ethnic Uzbeks, and many of them received exceptionally harsh sentences. 

The latest court case is not the first time that the SOS signs, still visible in some Uzbek neighborhoods in the south, have been cited as incriminating evidence. In mid-August, the head of the national commission investigating June’s bloodshed, Abdygany Erkebayev, gave preliminary results of the probe, saying that the violence had clearly been premeditated and that ethnic Uzbek community leaders had been among the main organizers. One piece of evidence pointing to their advance planning, according to Erkebayev, was that 15 tons of paint had been brought into the region ahead of time in order to mark Uzbek neighborhoods. The precise aim of these identifying marks wasn’t clear: Of nearly 2,000 homes and scores of shops destroyed in the fighting, the overwhelming majority had belonged to ethnic Uzbeks.

In Southern Kyrgyzstan, “SOS” Leads to Jail Time

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