By Ian MacWilliam
BBC Central Asia correspondent, Tashkent
Uzbekistan's Supreme Court has jailed 15 men for between 14
and 20 years after they were convicted of organising unrest in the eastern town of Andijan.
International observers the case as a show trial
Last May, a jail break in Andijan was followed by a massive anti-government
Protesters who escaped say government troops fired into the
crowd, killing hundreds of people.
The Uzbek authorities say only 187 people
died, and that most were killed by the organisers of the unrest, who it
calls Islamic insurgents.
"The court has found the accused guilty in particular of terrorism, attempts
to overthrow the constitutional order, aggravated murder and the seizure of
hostages," Judge Bakhtyor Jamolov told the court on Monday.
Outside observers, however, say the trial was carefully
stage-managed from the start.
The defendants all confessed their guilt in the opening days of the trial in September, begging the
forgiveness of the Uzbek people and President Islam Karimov.
International human rights groups and the UN have called into
question the trial's validity.
They say forced confessions are often
obtained by the use of threats against family members, by physical torture,
or by the use of psychotropic drugs.
They say these methods, widely used in
the Soviet period, are still routine in Uzbekistan today. The Uzbek
government denies this.
Apart from concerns about the confessions, the trial fell far short of
international standards in other respects.
During the month-long proceedings there was no cross-questioning by
independent lawyers and little attempt to verify the truth of witnesses'
The defendants' government-appointed lawyers made little effort to
"It was hard to believe some pressure was not put on the defendants," said
Andrea Berg, of US-based Human
"We think this was a show trial. The defendants and their
lawyers had no chance to speak to each other in private."
Of more than 200 witnesses called by the government, only one, a housewife
from near Andijan, challenged the official account.
said soldiers had indeed fired at unarmed civilians in
Andijan, and again as some protesters tried to escape across the border into
neighbouring Kyrgyzstan. The judge denounced Ms Zakirova in his summing up
"Makhbuba Zakirova gave evidence that does not agree with events," he told
the court. "The court has decided she intentionally gave false evidence
because she sympathises with the Akramists."
Few people in Andijan think the trial will prevent further unrest
The government uses the term "Akramists" to refer to members of a group of
pious Muslims in Andijan who were prominent in the anti-government protests.
But members of this ill-defined group say they are simply believers, not
terrorists, and they deny any desire to overthrow the government.
There has been concern about Ms Zakirova's security since her testimony. She remains under close government observation.
Some observers had expected the death penalty for some
of the accused. Analysts speculate
they may have been promised to be spared capital punishment if they
But speculation aside, Mr Karimov has said the death
penalty will be abolished in Uzbekistan in 2008 - and it may be that death
was judged to be too harsh, given the widespread criticism the trial has
In Andijan itself, there appears to be almost universal scepticism about the
trial. People are afraid to speak openly, but in private they say the
Tashkent government is persecuting normal Muslim believers.
people gathered in the town centre because they were concerned about
widespread government corruption and the lack of jobs.
Given the international criticism and widespread domestic scepticism, the
propaganda value of the Andijan trial is unclear.
Only Russia and China have
come out unequivocally in support of the Uzbek government - both countries
which are seeking greater influence in Central Asia.
While the sentences were being pronounced in Tashkent, Mr Karimov was
in Moscow receiving a warm welcome from President Vladimir Putin.
The two men signed
an agreement promising much closer military co-operation and apparently opening the way for possible Russian military intervention in
Uzbekistan in the event of further unrest, such as in Andijan.
"We have shown once more with whom we want to build our future," said Mr
Karimov in Moscow. "Russia is our most reliable partner and
By contrast, Brussels has issued a list of 12 top Uzbek
officials who will be banned from visiting EU member states for a year.
They include Interior minister Zakirjon Almatov, Defence minister Kadyr
Gulyamov, and the head of the secret police,
An EU statement said the visa ban, and a ban on arms sales to Uzbekistan,
had been adopted because of "the excessive, disproportionate and
indiscriminate use of force by Uzbek security forces during the Andijan
events, and following refusal of the Uzbek authorities to allow an
independent international inquiry".
While this trial has come to an end, anger about Andijan is bound to
continue to fester in Uzbekistan.
Members of the small and beleaguered
opposition say that disaffection with Mr Karimov is now widespread
within the government and the security services.
In Andijan, some people say cautiously they expect further unrest and possibly political change.
Historically the Uzbek people have usually been obedient to their rulers -
but many analysts say growing poverty and authoritarianism are making
Uzbekistan a dangerously unstable land in the heart of Central Asia.