Associated France Press (AFP) 24/10/2005
Uzbek massacre trial to hear closing arguments
Uzbekistan's supreme court is expected to start hearing closing arguments in the controversial trial of 15 alleged Islamist insurgents accused over the massive bloodshed in the east of the ex-Soviet republic this May.
The 15 face multiple charges that include murdering officials and members of the security forces, terrorism and violating the constitutional order -- charges punishable by death under Uzbek law.
All pleaded "fully guilty" on the first day of the trial in September of leading an attempted insurgency with foreign Islamist backing in the eastern city of Andijan, resulting in the deaths of 187 people, including soldiers, officials, civilians and fellow insurgents.
Rights campaigners and opposition groups, who say the death toll was far higher, accuse the authorities of using torture to force defendants to incriminate themselves in what amounts to a show trial.
"There are a lot of mysteries surrounding the trial," Ismail Adilov, the sole human rights activist allowed to monitor proceedings, said.
"Many of the witnesses who testified look suspicious. When I approached one of them to talk he was immediately pulled away by security people. "The defence lawyers, all state-appointed, also refuse to talk," Adilov said.
President Islam Karimov has refused Western demands for an international inquiry after witnesses and rights groups asserted that security forces shot and killed hundreds of unarmed civilians who had joined in anti-government demonstrations, while armed men took over the city centre.
Some 300 witnesses have almost unanimously backed the prosecutors' case. The defence lawyers' questions to their clients have appeared slanted to support the official version.
"Uzbekistan -- your motherland, which fed and educated you -- how did you dare to raise your hand against the government, against the state?" demanded one defence lawyer of her client.
Asked by his defence lawyer what punishment he thought he deserved, one defendant responded: "Yes we deserve to be killed twice over, but anyway we will ask forgiveness."
One witness called for the defendants' relatives to be killed.
"If I had the right, I would liquidate these people together with their children and relatives because their children will take after their parents," Umida Rakhmonova, 35, told the court.
One dissenting voice has countered the flow of denunciations.
Makhbuba Zokirova, a 33-year-old housewife, said she was "surprised" by the previous testimony.
She told the court that soldiers had attacked thousands of demonstrators who had gathered to demand better living standards and to support the gunmen.
The soldiers chased the demonstrators as far as the nearby border with Kyrgyzstan, shooting all whom they could, she said. "On the border we had a white flag. Despite that, the Uzbek soldiers shot at us. Even Hitler didn't do such a thing."
"I know I am the only person to say these things," she said, addressing the prosecutor. "What is going to happen to me? Are you going to arrest me?"
The trial has been marked by repeated denunciations of Western media and human rights groups for contradicting the official version of events. Ahead of the proceedings, Anvar Nabiyev, the chief trial prosecutor, compared Western media outlets to "hyenas and jackals searching for carrion".
According to the government, 187 people died, most of them members of an outlawed group called Akramia. However, non-governmental organisations paint a very different picture, putting the toll at between 500 and 1,000 people, mostly civilians killed in a rampage by troops.
Neither version has ever been verified, although independent journalists at the scene witnessed soldiers shooting into a large crowd of civilians that gathered after anti-government gunmen took over key public buildings.
Almost six months later, tension remains high in Andijan, according to human rights activist Surat Ikramov.
"People are afraid to talk about what happened in May or what has happened since the trial started in Tashkent. But those who agree to speak believe that it will be years before we know the full truth," he said.