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The Andijan Uprising, Protests, and Massacre

The trigger for the Andijan protests was the June 2004 arrest of twenty-three successful local businessmen on charges of “religious extremism,” for their alleged membership in a banned Islamic movement, “Akramia.”3 Some observers saw the prosecution as a reaction to the businessmen’s growing authority in the Andijan community, garnered from having provided relatively high wages and good benefits to their employees. As the trial progressed from February 2005 into May, the businessmen’s supporters began to protest the hearings. Popular discontent grew and, on May 10, some seven hundred – one thousand people gathered outside the Altinkul District Court to protest the proceedings. On May 11 police arrested three young supporters of the businessmen who had participated in the protests.

As Andijan awaited a verdict in the trials on May 12, relatives and supporters of the businessmen took action. Around midnight on May 12-13, a group of between fifty and one hundred men attacked a local police station and then stormed the Ministry of Defense’s barracks no. 34, seizing weapons and a military vehicle. The armed group then broke through the gates of the Andijan prison, where the twenty-three businessmen were held. They freed the businessmen and hundreds of inmates. The men then moved to take control of the hokimiat (local administration building), with some of the group engaging in a heavy gun battle with security officials outside the National Security Service (SNB in its Russian acronym) on the way.

As the crowd grew on Bobur Square, the gunmen started taking law enforcement and government officials as hostages. Some unarmed people in the square also captured hostages and turned them over to the gunmen.

Throughout the morning of May 13, the armed group mobilized its supporters using mobile phones, urging people to gather for a protest rally in Bobur Square, in front of the hokimiat. The crowd attracted other Andijan residents who hoped to voice their anger about depressed economic conditions and growing government repression; the numbers of unarmed civilians in the square grew to thousands. As the day went on, Uzbek security forces indiscriminately shot into the crowd from armored personnel carriers (APCs) and sniper positions above the square. Towards the evening, government troops blocked off the square and then, without warning, opened fire, killing and wounding unarmed civilians. People fled the square in several groups, the first group using as a human shield numerous hostages seized earlier in the day. As they tried to escape, hundreds of people were shot by snipers or mowed down by troops firing from APCs. After the peak of the carnage, government forces swept through the area and executed some of the wounded where they lay. Those who managed to escape fled to neighboring Kyrgyzstan where they were gathered into a hastily-erected tent camp near the border.

Separate investigations conducted by Human Rights Watch, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) found that Uzbek government forces were responsible for the majority of civilian deaths.4  Contrary to accounts provided by the Uzbek government, these reports also found that the large-scale demonstration that took place in Andijan on May 13 was not related to Islamic extremism, but to the expression of people’s grievances regarding the economy, poverty, and abuses of the judicial system.

Early Post-massacre Cover-up and Intimidation of Witnesses

In the immediate aftermath of the massacre, government authorities closed off Bobur Square and Cholpon Prospect, where much of the killing had taken place. The bodies were removed and signs and evidence of the massacre were erased. Authorities washed the blood from the street and painted over the bullet-riddled buildings of the surrounding neighborhood. The government stationed armed guards around the local hospitals, and forbade independent journalists and human rights investigators access to the hospitals, morgues, and cemeteries. Foreign journalists were detained by police, threatened, and forcibly evicted from the city. Law enforcement officials confiscated journalists’ notes, video and tape recordings, and photographs—vital evidence of the details of the massacre. In the hours and days that followed, government road blocks were set up, and Andijan became a closed city, with access granted only to a select few with government permission. Rights defenders and journalists from outside Andijan were prevented from entering to investigate the circumstances of the massacre or speak to witnesses.

The government was unable to cover up or expunge the memories of the horrors committed on May 13 from the minds of those who witnessed them first-hand. Some of the strongest evidence of the government’s excessive use of force that day came from survivors of and eyewitnesses to the massacre. In an effort to prevent people with knowledge of government wrongdoing from telling their stories, government authorities initiated a campaign to silence the residents of Andijan. Law enforcement and security agents joined forces with members of local mahalla (neighborhood) committees,5 going door-to-door ordering people not to speak to journalists or foreigners who visited, not to talk about the events of May 13.6 Local taxi drivers were specifically instructed not to speak to outsiders.

The Criminal Investigation into the Andijan Events

On May 13, 2005 the Uzbek prosecutor general’s office opened a criminal investigation into the events, which it qualified as “acts of terrorism,” “encroachment on the foundations of constitutional order,” “mass disturbances,” “hostage taking,” and “other violent crimes.”7 Law enforcement authorities launched a series of arrests to apprehend the leaders and the most active participants of the May 13 uprising and protest.

On September 5 and 6, investigators from the prosecutor general’s office presented the results of their findings to the Uzbek independent parliamentary commission set up to examine the events in Andijan. The investigators reported that heavily-armed rebel groups, supported by foreign religious extremist organizations, seized over three hundred weapons and committed “terrorist acts” in Andijan. According to prosecutors, 187 people were killed and another 287 were wounded in the violence. The investigators stated that the rebels took seventy people hostage and killed fifteen of them.8

As a result of the investigation, an initial fifteen people were charged with various crimes, including violent attempt to overthrow the constitutional order, and their cases were referred to the Supreme Court.9 The trial of the fifteen is expected to begin on September 20.10The prosecutor general’s office also stated that investigations are ongoing concerning an additional 106 people charged with crimes related to their “direct participation in terrorist acts.” In addition, charges of criminal negligence were brought against twenty-five members of law enforcement agencies and the military for failing to repel the attackers.11

Human Rights Watch received reports indicating that there are serious procedural violations in the investigation. Two witnesses told Human Rights Watch that they learned of their relatives’ arrests only from television news reports that showed the detainees. They spent months trying to find out where their relatives were being held and were never allowed to visit them in detention.12  

In at least two cases brought to the attention of Human Rights Watch, Uzbek authorities prevented detainees charged with involvement in the Andijan events from receiving appropriate legal representation, in blatant violation of international and domestic law. Two defense attorneys interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they had encountered insurmountable difficulties in obtaining access to their clients. The lawyers said that after being hired by the detainees’ families, they were constantly referred to one official and then to another and could not access the detainees for weeks on end. The attorneys told Human Rights Watch that their colleagues representing other Andijan detainees faced similar obstacles, indicating that the problem may be more widespread.

One of the attorneys told Human Rights Watch that after he finally received access to his client the authorities barred him from access to important investigative materials, such as the record of his client’s psychological evaluation.13

Another defense lawyer, “Dilshod D.” (not his real name), had to argue and push for some twenty days, going from one official to another, in order to get access to his client, who was being held in Tashkent prison. However, his efforts proved futile—when he was finally allowed to meet with “Oktiboi O.,” (not the man’s real name) the latter refused his services. The lawyer was convinced that the detainee had been forced to reject him. He said:

Two huge guys, investigators, brought [Oktiboi O.] in. Imagine a rabbit at gun point, [that’s what he looked like]. He came in and could not even sit down—he was so scared. One of the investigators tells him, ‘So, you wanted to say something?’ He tells me, ‘I’m sorry, please, tell my mom that I am fine, I have a lawyer and I don’t need another one, and please do not bother me ever again.’ I tell the investigators, ‘Do you know the law? Please, leave the room. I need to talk to him in private.’ But [Oktiboi O.] was so scared, he tells them, ‘Don’t go!’ He knew perfectly well that if they leave now and he stays with me, they would then start beating and torturing him to beat out of him what he had told me and what I had told him… When they finally left, he said, ‘I beg you, just go away, now.’… And he wrote a statement [that he refuses my services]. Of course, we [later] included there that we do not trust this refusal, because he had been subjected to very hard psychological and moral pressure so that he could not even talk.14

The official government investigation into the May 13 events was by no means limited to the arrest of individuals whom the government believed to be involved in the violence. In an effort to obtain evidence that would support the official version of events and with the aim of silencing witnesses to the massacre, Uzbek authorities launched a massive campaign to coerce testimony from Andijan residents and obtain the return of hundreds of eyewitnesses who sought refuge in neighboring Kyrgyzstan.

Uzbek Media Coverage of the Andijan Events

The government has used the media to control and manipulate information available to the public about the events of May 13. National news broadcasts repeatedly described the gunmen involved in the takeover of government buildings as “terrorists” and “religious extremists” who committed “terrorist acts” in an attempt to take power and undermine Uzbekistan’s “progress” and “democratic reforms.”15 A film aired on state-run television on July 30 titled, “Temptation Leading toward the Abyss,” claims that Akram Yuldashev, the reported leader of the “Akramia” movement, organized the Andijan bloodshed. Yuldashev has been in government custody since 1999 and is currently serving a seventeen-year term in prison. The film shows Yuldashev confessing to having urged his “religious brothers to start fighting jihad.”16

In several broadcasts, including one showing excerpts from a press conference given by President Islam Karimov on May 17, the government categorically denies that any peaceful protests occurred in Andijan.17 At least two people interviewed for state television broadcasts claim that the gunmen, and not the law enforcement representatives, fired on the crowds.18

The government broadcast “public confessions” in which men allegedly “tricked” or threatened into participating in armed attacks on May 13 admit to their wrongdoing and beg for forgiveness from their families, compatriots, and President Karimov. The men are often shown crying as they speak. Some are shown being handed over to their families and mahalla committees for “rehabilitation” and “education.”19

President Karimov has accused “foreign powers” of having instigated the Andijan violence with the aim of seeing the government overthrown by a popular revolt similar to those in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan. 20 This view was reflected in the Uzbek media. One government official stated that he believes “international organizations directly or indirectly support the extremist groups” supposedly responsible for the violence and loss of life in Andijan. 21 One television broadcast announced that, “Certain forces, involved in what happened in Kyrgyzstan, are now attempting to destabilize the situation in Uzbekistan in the same way.”22  

Media broadcasts also strongly denied the need for an international investigation, claiming that foreign agencies and experts are biased and that Uzbekistan has the capacity to carry out an objective investigation.23

[3] There are diverging opinions on the nature of “Akramia” inspired by former Andijan mathematics teacher Akram Yuldashev. His pamphlet, Yimonga Yul (“Path to Faith”), was a controversial examination of Muslim spiritual values. While independent writers have characterized the work as politically innocuous, an Uzbek court found that his works advocated the overthrow of the Uzbek government. Authorities also link Yuldashev to Hizb-ut-Tahrir, an organization that he reportedly joined and left in the 1980s.

[4] Human Rights Watch, “Bullets Were Falling Like Rain: The Andijan Massacre, May 13, 2005,” A Human Rights Watch Report, Vol. 17, No. 5 (D), June 2005; and U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Report of the Mission to Kyrgyzstan by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Concerning the Killings in Andijan, Uzbekistan, of 13-14 May 2005, July 12, 2005 [online], (retrieved August 9, 2005); and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Preliminary Findings on the Events in Andijan, Uzbeksitan, 13 May 2005, released by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, June 20, 2005 [online], (retrieved August 9, 2005).

[5] The mahalla is a centuries-old autonomous institution originally organized around Islamic and social events. In the Soviet period, many mahallas were formalized and incorporated into Uzbekistan’s administrative structure. After independence, the mahallas took shape as the smallest administrative unit in Uzbekistan’s system of governance. The government promotes the mahalla as the root of the Uzbek nation. Although under the law the mahalla committee's activities are controlled through general neighborhood meetings, in practice administrative government authorities control their activities. President Karimov always tracked his vision of local control with the help of the mahalla. A prominent example was the creation of the position of "neighborhood guardian" (posbon) by a Cabinet of Ministers' statute on April 19, 1999, after several bombings had taken place in Tashkent. Mahallas now serve as the eyes and ears of the government at the neighborhood level, cooperating with law enforcement and other authorities in the surveillance of “suspicious” individuals or gathering of personal information on the population.

[6] See, inter alia, Daniel Kimmage, “Uzbekistan: Voices from Andijan,” RFE/RL, June 25, 2005, online at (retrieved June 27, 2005); Daniel Kimmage, “Uzbekistan: Climate of Fear Grips Andijan,” RFE/RL features article August 16, 2005, online at (retrieved August 16, 2005); and Human Rights Watch, “Bullets Were Falling Like Rain: The Andijan Massacre, May 13, 2005,” pp. 43-45.

[7] Statement by the Prosecutor General of Uzbekistan Rashid Kadyrov, May 18, 2005, broadcast by the Television and Radio Company of Uzbekistan [online], at (retrieved August 26, 2005).

[8] The investigators claimed that the “terrorist acts in Andijan were planned and organized in great detail by destructive foreign forces” including “the Islamic Movement of Turkestan and Hizb-ut-Tahir with its offshoot Akramia,” who wanted to “overthrow the constitutional order and create an Islamic state.” The investigators allege that the organizers began preparing the attack in August 2004, that there were members trained in southern Kyrgyzstan, and that some “sixty trained and armed Kyrgyz citizens … actively participated” in the terrorist acts. They also allege that the organizers planned “so-called ‘peaceful’ demonstrations” alongside the terrorist acts in order to generate chaos. Press Service of the Prosecutor General of Uzbekistan, “Report on the Investigation into the Andijan Events before the Oliy Majlis [Parliament] Commission,” Uzbekistan National News Agency UzA, September 7, 2005 [online]  (retrieved September 7, 2005). A senior Kyrgyz official denied that rebels could have been trained in southern Kyrgyzstan. “Statement of the General Procuracy of Uzbekistan Does Not ‘Correspond with Reality’ Says Kyrgyz Security Council,” Kabar News Agency, September 7, 2005, as carried online on CentrAsia News Service, (retrieved September 7, 2005).

[9] Press Service of the Prosecutor General of Uzbekistan, “Report on the Investigation into the Andijan Events before the Oliy Majlis [Parliament] Commission.” The Uzbek Supreme Court may serve as the trial court of first instance in certain types of criminal cases, including those involving national security. Under articles 389 and 390 of the Uzbek criminal procedure code the Supreme Court may have jurisdiction as a trial court under certain circumstances, including for cases that are especially complex or significant.

[10] “Uzbek Leader Says Andijan Trial to Start 20 September,” Uzbek Television First Channel, in Uzbek, August 31, 2005, English translation of excerpts in BBC Monitoring, August 31, 2005.

[11] Press Service of the Prosecutor General of Uzbekistan, “Report on the Investigation into the Andijan Events before the Oliy Majlis [Parliament] Commission.”

[12] Human Rights Watch interview with “Rasul R.” (not his real name), Andijan, July 13, 2005; and Human Rights Watch interview with “Farida F.” (not her real name), date and place of interview withheld. Under article 217 of the Uzbek Criminal Code law enforcement officials are obliged to notify relatives of a detainee about the detention within twenty-four hours of the detention.

[13] Human Rights Watch interview with “Odil O.” (not his real name), Tashkent, August 16, 2005.

[13] Human Rights Watch interview with “Dilshod D.” (not his real name), Tashkent, August 18, 2005.

[14] Ibid. In other contexts Uzbek authorities resort to coercion to pressure criminal defendants to refuse defense counsel not appointed by the state.

[15] Uzbek Television and Radio Company broadcasts, “Normalization of the Situation in Andijan,” May 16, 2005; “Visit of the Diplomatic Corps to Andijan,” May 18, 2005; “Situation in Andijan One Week after the Tragedy,” May 21, 2005; “Attitudes Towards the Andijan Events,” May 23, 2005; “Regarding the Events in Andijan,” May 25, 2005; and “Regarding the Events in Andijan,” May 28, 2005, all online at (retrieved August 24, 2005); and “Uzbek TV Screens Second Part of New Documentary on Andijan Events,” as quoted in BBC Monitoring, July 28, 2005.

[16] Gulnoza Saidazimova, “Uzbekistan: Authorities Intensify State Propaganda on Andijan Tragedy,” RFE/RL August 11, 2005.

[17] Uzbekistan Television and Radio Company broadcasts, “Meeting at the General Procuracy,” May 18, 2005, and “Situation in Andijan One Week after the Tragedy,” May 21, 2005, both online at (retrieved August 24, 2005). In an interview on Uzbek television, Dr. Shirin Akiner, a professor at the University of London who visited Andijan shortly after the massacre, supports the government’s version of events saying, "These people were not peaceful demonstrators, these were rebels, they were armed. On the square there were no protests or demands from the local people, there were just some people who stood and watched what happened.” Uzbek Television and Radio Company, “Akhborot” (News), May 29, 2005, online at (retrieved August 24, 2005. This broadcast was subsequently removed from the Uzbek Television and Radio Company website. It is on file with Human Rights Watch).

[18] Uzbekistan Television and Radio Company broadcasts, “Normalization of the Situation in Andijan,” May 16, 2005; and “Briefing at the General Procuracy,” May 28, 2005.

[19] Uzbekistan Television and Radio Company broadcasts, “Twelve Days Since the Events in Andijan,” May 24, 2005; “Briefing in the General Procuracy,” May 28, 2005; “Statements from Citizens About Forgiveness for their Actions,” May 30, 2005; and “Increased Role of Mahalla Committees in the Upbringing of Young People in Andijan,” June 2, 2005, online at (retrieved August 24, 2005).

[20] Uzbek Television First Channel, June 30, 2005, English translation by BBC Monitoring July 1, 2005.

[21] Uzbekistan Television and Radio Company broadcasts, “Regarding the Events in Andijan,” May 25, 2005, online at (retrieved August 24, 2005).

[22] Uzbekistan Television and Radio Company broadcast, “Regarding the Events in Andijan,” May 25, 2005. In a May 29 interview on Uzbek state television, Dr. Akiner also stated, “There are external forces—governmental and nongovernmental—that would like to see a different government here and carry out the same kind of revolution in Uzbekistan as happened in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan so that this would happen here and that there would be consequences in Kazakhstan and other countries of Central Asia.” Uzbek Television and Radio Company, “Akhborot” (News), May 29, 2005. “Prosecutor’s Office Presents Report on Andijan to Parliament Commission,” Press Service of the General Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Uzbekistan, September 7, 2005, online at (retrieved September 8, 2005).

[23] Uzbekistan Television and Radio Company broadcasts, “Attitudes towards the Andijan Events,” May 23, 2005; “Twelve Days since the Andijan Events,” May 24, 2005; and “Regarding the Events in Andijan,” May 25, 2005, all online at (retrieved August 24, 2005).

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