On June 2, amid heavy security precautions, the Supreme Court of Uzbekistan began the trial of twenty-two alleged participants in the February 16 terrorist bomb attacks in Tashkent. Those explosions killed sixteen people and injured more than 100, narrowly missing President Islam Karimov and other state officials (see the Monitor, February 17-18). The defendants are charged with premeditated multiple murders, attempted assassination of the head of state, membership in criminal and terrorist groups, illegal possession of weapons and explosives, smuggling of arms, drugs and currency, and links to “extremist religious organizations abroad” aiming to overthrow the constitutional order in Uzbekistan. Some of the defendants are also accused of having undergone terrorist training in Afghanistan or Tajikistan, or luring others into such training. The main charges carry the death penalty.
Reading out the voluminous indictment will occupy several days of court proceedings. The prosecution has outlined a scenario of the abortive coup d’etat in which the assassination of Karimov was to have been followed by the entry into Uzbekistan of two radical Islamic guerrilla detachments, led by Tahir Yuldash and Juma Namangani, respectively. According to the prosecution’s scenario, those detachments were to install Muhammad Salih as president of Uzbekistan (International agencies, June 2-3).
The Uzbek citizens, Islamic militants Yuldash and Namangani, have at various times been traced in Afghanistan, Iran and in opposition-controlled areas of Tajikistan during the past two years. Salih, a secular Uzbek politician, lost the 1991 presidential election to Karimov and emigrated afterward to Turkey–a destination consistent with Salih’s secular orientation. Karimov has tried in vain to obtain Salih’s extradition from the otherwise friendly Turkish government. The Tajik government for its part has been unable to apprehend and deliver Namangani’s group. Yuldash has recently made propaganda broadcasts beamed into Uzbekistan by the Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran–a radio station of the Iranian government in the border city of Mashhad.
The Uzbek authorities have promised an open trial accessible to the press, foreign embassies and representatives of human rights groups. Those groups have expressed concern that Uzbek authorities are treating legitimate religious activities as subversive, targeting some believers as criminals and labeling opposition figures as terrorists. In the run-up to the trial, state media have announced the voluntary surrender of some repentant “extremists,” the arrest of others and the confiscation of Islamist literature from the militants’ hideouts. Against the background of the trial, the government is redoubling promises of clemency to militants who surrender and is urging the populace to denounce any suspected “extremists” to the authorities (Turkiston (Tashkent), May 26; Uzbek Television, May 30, June 2).
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