The Andijan protests were triggered by the arrest and trial of twenty-three successful local businessmen on charges of religious extremism.7 Arrested in June 2004, they went on trial on February 11, 2005, in the Altinkul district court. Twenty-two defendants faced charges of organizing a criminal group, attempt to overthrow the constitutional order of Uzbekistan, membership in an illegal religious organization and possession or distribution of literature containing a threat to public safety.8 One defendant was charged with abuse of power relating to his professional position.9
According to reports, journalists and most relatives of the defendants were prohibited from observing some sessions of the trial.10 A local activist, Saidjahon Zainabitdinov, served as a non-lawyer public defender for one of the defendants. Zainabitdinov eventually refused to participate in the proceedings, protesting that they were a sham and that the judge refused to allow him to pose questions to witnesses and carry out the defense of his client.11
The government claimed that the men were members of an underground Islamic group, Akramia (see below), but the extent to which the defendants subscribed to the teachings of Akram Yuldashev or had links to the Akramia movement is unclear. The father of one of the defendants asserted that all the defendants were simply devout Muslims and successful businessmen who pooled resources to assist the growth of one anothers businesses and funded charitable work in the community.12
The defendants businesseswhich included furniture factories, business supply companies, bakeries, tailoring firms, construction companies, and transportation firmsemployed thousands of people in impoverished Andijan. The defendants were well known for their role as community leaders. They established a minimum wage that exceeded the meager government-mandated wage, paid employees medical expenses and sick leave, and provided free meals to staff. They also financially supported a local hospital and orphanage and made donations to local schools and mahalla, or local neighborhood, committees.13
When interviewed by Human Rights Watch in the refugee camp in Kyrgyzstan, the freed businessmen explained that they did indeed have close ties to each other, but that their relationships had nothing to do with religious extremism. Many of their families faced government repression after the 1999 Tashkent bombings (see below), and they were unable to obtain credit from government-controlled banks. The businessmen had joined and used their combined capital to finance each others businesses.14
Operating outside the government-controlled banking system, the businessmen were beyond the usual levers of state control. In many areas of commerce and industry, they successfully undercut the market share of pro-government monopolies. They enjoyed the loyalty of thousands of employees who were generally paid better and had better working conditions than most others in Andijan. The entrepreneurs popularity on these grounds presented a challenge to Uzbek authorities.
The twenty-three businessmen were not the only group of entrepreneurs targeted by the government. In January 2005, the authorities arrested a second group of thirteen businessmen on the same charges, and other businessmen in Andijan lived in fear of arrest. One Andijan businessman told Human Rights Watch that he had left Andijan in January for Moscow to escape arrest and that there were rumors that the Andijan authorities had drawn up a list of 500 businessmen whom they suspected of involvement in Akramia.15
The crackdown on the Andijan business community and the closure of these firms raised tensions not only because of the unfairness of the businessmens trials. In the already economically depressed Fergana Valley, the loss of thousands of jobs as a direct result of the crackdown was devastating, plunging many families into poverty. And no end to their misery was in sight: instead, the government was continuing to arrest more businessmen and shutting down their companies, adding to the economic hardship.
On April 25, 2005, the defendants announced a hunger strike during the trial to protest the judges actions at the trial. Defense counsel petitioned the court to have a prosecution witness evaluated for mental fitness to testify, and to call as witnesses Akram Yuldashev as well as the government expert in religious affairs who had issued the conclusion that Yuldashevs writings should be banned as extremist.16
The judge refused all these defense motions, and the defendants abandoned the hunger strike when authorities attempted to force feed them through feeding tubes.17 Throughout the trial, relatives and supporters of the defendants gathered daily outside the court to protest the trial. The demonstrations were orderly and quiet and grew to include several hundred people. On May 10, approximately 700-1000 people protested outside of the city court where the trial was taking place.
On May 11, police arrested three young men who had been supporters of the twenty-three businessmen, apparently on suspicion of beating police officers in a neighborhood in the outskirts of Andijan.18 On May 12, the relatives of the three young men went to the local police station, where one officer acknowledged that the three were also connected to the trial protests. The officer told the relatives that two of the young men were at the local prosecutors office, and that a third was at the city prosecutors office, for questioning. No one from the local prosecutors office would give any information about the two, according to a BBC correspondent who accompanied the relatives to the station.19
 The arrested businessmen were: Rasuljon Ajikhalilov, Abdumajit Ibragimov, Abdulboki Ibragimov, Tursunbek Nazarov, Makhammadshokir Artikov, Odil Makhsdaliyev, Dadakhon Nodirov, Shamsitdin Atamatov, Ortikboy Akbarov, Rasul Akbarov, Shavkat Shokirov, Abdurauf Khamidov, Muzaffar Kodirov, Mukhammadaziz Mamdiyev, Nasibillo Maksudov, Adkhamjon Babojonov, Khakimjon Zakirov, Gulomjon Nadirov, Musojon Mirzaboyev, Dilshchodbek Mamadiyev, Abdulvosid Igamov, Shokurjon Shakirov, and Ravshanbek Mazimjonov.
 Articles 242, 159, 244-1 and 244-2 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan.
 Article 205 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan.
 In Andijan Trial Begins Against 23 Akramists, statement of Abdugapur Dadboev, deputy chairman of the Andijan city branch of [the human rights organization] Ezgulik (Goodness). February 11, 2005. A copy of the statement is on file with Human Rights Watch.
 Trial of Akramists: a District Judge is made into a Hawk, statement of Abdugapur Dadboev, deputy chairman of the Andijan city branch of Ezgulik, February 17, 2005. A copy of the statement is on file with Human Rights Watch.
 Uzbekistan: Islamic Charitable Work Criminal and Extremist?, Igor Rotar, Forum 18 News Service, February 14, 2005. Available from http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=508&printer=Y.
Ibid; and Uzbekistan: The Andijon Uprising, p. 3. International Crisis Group Asia Briefing No. 38, May 25, 2005. Available from http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=3469&l=1
 Human Rights Watch interviews with Faizullo F. (not his real name), April 24, 2005 and April 27, 2005; Human Rights Watch interviews with Rovshan R. (not his real name), April 26, 2005 and April 27, 2005; Human Rights Watch interviews with Yuldash Yu.(not his real name), April 26 and April 27, 2005; Human Rights Watch interview with Kamil K. (not his real name), April 27, 2005.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Kamil K. (not his real name), April 27, 2005.
 Akramia Defendants Announced Hunger Strike, statement of Saidjahon Zainabitdinov, chairman of the Andijan human rights group Apelliatsia, April 28, 2005. A copy of the statement is on file with Human Rights Watch.
 The three were Murodjon Zokirjonov, Abdulaziz Mamadiev, and Alisher Abdulakhad.
 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with BBC correspondent Jennifer Norton, May 31, 2005.