On December 14, 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 May 12-13, 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 September 20 with guilty pleas from all 15 defendants and ended on November 14 with prison terms of 14-20 years, received heavy coverage from the international press. But as Human Rights Watch (HRW) noted in a November 30 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 May 13," 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 May 13, the resident replied: "On May 13, 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 May 13, 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 May 13 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 May 13. "On May 13 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 May 12-13, they should be from the National Security Service (SNB).
"When the attack began [on the night of May 12], 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."