Human Rights Watch condemned the decision of the Supreme
Court of Uzbekistan to convict 12 men, nine of whom were tried in absentia, on terrorism and other
Solih, head of the Erk (Freedom) political party, has been in exile since 1994, when he fled arrest. He was the only genuine independent candidate to challenge Uzbek President Karimov in 1991 presidential elections. Trials in absentia violate international law, which stipulates that a defendant should be present at his own trial.
"Accusing the democratic opposition of violent crimes is a favored tactic of Uzbekistan's authoritarian government," said Rachel Denber, acting executive director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch. "These political show trials are only part of the Uzbek government's appalling human rights record."
State prosecutors had asked for the death penalty for Solih and nine others, but in a rare move the court handed down prison terms of 12 to 20 years instead. Uzbekistan is obligated under its 1999 Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with the European Union to move toward the abolition of the death penalty and to respect human rights. Nonetheless, the state continues to apply the death penalty and execute an unknown number of men by firing squad each year.
"The E.U. and other states, especially the U.S., need to be sending a clear signal that political show trials are not a substitute for justice," said Ms. Denber.
The two men sentenced to death were Tohir Yuldash, spokesman for the so-called Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), and Jumaboi Namangani, the militant group's field commander, neither of whom was present at the trial. Three accused militants present in the dock received sentences ranging from 12 to 16 years. The government of Uzbekistan charged that IMU fighters—who this summer fought in pitched battles against soldiers from the Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan military— were in fact terrorists responsible for 1999 Tashkent
bombings that left 16 dead. The U.S. government placed the IMU on its list of international terrorist groups in September of this year.
In court, the state failed to provide material or sufficient evidence that the IMU or its leadership, which has denied involvement in the bombings, were responsible for terrorist acts in Uzbekistan. It relied instead on confessions and the testimony of convicted prisoners; Uzbek courts are infamous for relying on confessions made under torture in order to convict those on terrorism and other charges.
State-organized hate rallies reportedly took place throughout the country during the trial in order to generate popular support for the charges. Three of Solih's brothers—Komil, Muhammed, and Rashid Bekjonov—are currently serving sentences ranging from 10 to 15 years on politically motivated charges, part of a government program to arrest relatives of those labeled "enemies of the state."