WASHINGTON – Commissioners of the U.S. Helsinki Commission strongly condemned the outcome of the trial of 15 men in Uzbekistan for the outbreak of unrest in the city of Andijan. The verdicts, which were announced on November 14th, found the men guilty of trying to oust the Uzbek Government and set up an Islamic state.
“The Uzbek Government, after blocking international investigation of the bloody events in Andijan, set up a kangaroo court and expects the world to accept the verdict,” said Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS). “It is especially telling that official Uzbek sources have accused the United States of involvement in terrorism. Regrettably, the Uzbek Government seems determined to isolate itself from the Western world.”
The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.
“The convictions in the Andijan trial were based on an unjust trial that included evidence that couldn’t come close to passing the credibility smell test,” added Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ). “The trials were a sham and in complete violation of Uzbekistan’s obligations under the Helsinki Process. As a first step, Uzbekistan needs to allow a credible international investigation into what happened at Andijan. This situation proves the need for passage of my Central Asia Democracy and Human Rights Act.”
On May 12, an unidentified group of armed men broke open a jail to free a group of 23 local businessmen who had been facing trial on charges of extremism, as well as seized the city hall and other government facilities in the eastern Uzbek town of Andijan. Human rights groups and the United Nations say that Uzbek security forces fired upon the anti-government demonstrators, leaving hundreds of people dead. The Uzbek Government has claimed that Islamic radicals, trained in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, organized the incident in Andijan.
“The human rights situation in Uzbekistan continues to deteriorate, and the convictions in the Andijan trial simply highlight a desperate and unacceptable situation,” said Commission Ranking Member Rep. Ben Cardin (D-MD). “The international community has to take a more aggressive stand on what is happening in Uzbekistan and pressure the government to undertake a serious democratization effort.”
The fifteen men found guilty in the case have been sentenced to anywhere between 14 and 20 years in prison. Uzbekistan’s history of torturing persons in custody, the numerous irregularities in the trial process, and the almost exclusive reliance on confessions for obtaining convictions in this case have led many human rights organizations to express the concern that testimony was obtained under duress.
The Helsinki Commission held a hearing on Uzbekistan on June 29th at which eye-witnesses to the Andijan crisis provided testimony.