In the fall of 2005, the Uzbek authorities began a series of trials related to the Andijan events. The trials were portrayed by the government as a means of clarifying what happened in Andijan on May 12-13. In fact, they did nothing to answer the outstanding questions about the scale of and responsibility for the massacre. Instead, the trials appear largely to have been staged to support the governments version of events and to provide a justification for the governments crackdown. As such, the trials provided no justice whatsoever for the victims of the Andijan massacre.
The first trial, in the Supreme Court (September 20-November 14), involved fifteen defendants charged with more than thirty crimes primarily relating to the prison break and the hostage-taking in the local government building that occurred on May 12-13 in Andijan.
The trial fell far short of international standards and gave rise to concerns that the defendants could have been subjected to torture or other coercion. All of the defendants confessed to the chargesincluding membership in an extremist organization, murder, and terrorismand several even requested that they be given the death penalty. Their testimony, which police obtained from them in detention, was largely consistent with the prosecutors indictmentin fact some recited verbatim long passages from the indictment in their confessionsas well as with the governments previous description of the events as reflected in the Uzbek media.
Although defense lawyers were present at the trial, they did not mount an active defense of their clients. Not a single defense lawyer argued that his or her client was innocent, none contested the evidence presented during the trial, and instead all highlighted that their clients had confessed immediately and had asked for forgiveness from the president of Uzbekistan. Six of the defense lawyers even began their remarks by begging the citizens of Andijan for forgiveness for defending such guilty persons.
During the trial, the prosecutor presented a long parade of witnesses and victims, whose testimony generally corroborated the government version of the May 13 events. However, it did little to paint a clear, detailed picture of what happened on that day and almost nothing to establish the individual criminal liability of any of the fifteen men on trial. Only one witness, Mahbuba Zokirova, dared to contradict the official version of the events. She surprised the court by offering a harrowing picture of government violence in Andijan on May 13.
At the close of evidence, the case rested entirely on testimony from the defendants, witnesses, and victims, as well as some confidential information from the governments criminal investigation. The prosecution did not introduce any forensic, ballistic, or medical reports, nor did it present any exhibits or call expert witnesses. The trial did nothing to clarify which government forces actually shot at unarmed protesters in Bobur Square and the nearby streets and did not attempt to identify who gave the orders for the massacre.
Between November 2005 and January 2006 at least another 230 people were convicted and sentenced to lengthy prison terms in seventeen trialsincluding one trial of Andijan Interior Ministry employees and another involving Andijan prison staff and soldiersthat were closed to the public. Their relatives and the international community were not informed about the place or the starting date of the trials, and those international observers who sought access were denied it.
The seventeen closed trials as well as the Supreme Court trial tried to portray the Andijan events as linked to religious extremism in Uzbekistan. The indictments presented a history of Islamic terrorism from the Soviet era up to the establishment of the organization Akramia (see Background, below) in the recent past. The Uzbek government appears to have tried to use the trials to justify their decade-long campaign of harassment of independent Muslims, as well as to divert attention from government responsibility for the massacre.
In the one trial of personnel from the Andijan department of the Interior Ministry, the twelve defendants were charged only with crimes related to their alleged failure to prevent terrorism during the night of May 12-13. They were also charged with failing to conduct radical and necessary measures to control the situation during the trial of the twenty-three businessmen. All twelve were found guilty of the charges. One was granted parole; the others were sentenced to between two and eleven years imprisonment. The verdict did not mention the massacre on May 13.
As of this writing, more than two hundred men who were convicted during these trials were still being held in pre-trial detention facilities and few had access to their families. Only a few of the relatives who tried to see their husbands, brothers, or sons were granted permission. As of this writing, it remained unclear when the men would be transferred to a regular prison and their relatives would be granted normal prison visits.
At least another dozen men who participated in the demonstration on Bobur Square have been charged with terrorism, infringement of the constitutional order of Uzbekistan, and preparation or distribution of information threatening to public security and the public order, and are currently awaiting trial.