Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 217

On November 17, the Supreme Court of Uzbekistan passed sentences on twelve opposition leaders and militants on charges of terrorism, multiple murder, attempts to assassinate state leaders, and conspiracy to overthrow the state order. The charges centered on: killings and robberies committed in the Ferghana Valley prior to 1999; the February 1999 bomb attacks in Tashkent, which killed at least sixteen and wounded more than 100, narrowly missing President Islam Karimov and other officials; two guerrilla incursions into the Tashkent Region in 1999 and 2000; and the August-October 2000 rebellion in the Surkhandaria Region. The expatriate Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) had assumed responsibility for most of those acts. The IMU has in September of this year been added to the list of international terrorist organizations by the United States government.

Nine defendants were tried in absentia. Of these, Tahir Yuldash and Juma Namangani (Jumaboi Hojiev)–who are the spiritual and the military leader, respectively, of the IMU–were sentenced to death. Muhammad Solih (the literary pseudonym of Salai Madaminov) was sentenced to fifteen years and six months in prison for organizing criminal acts. Two defendants were sentenced to twenty-year prison terms for perpetrating the Tashkent bombings. Four others received eighteen- and nineteen-year terms for other terrorist acts.

The three defendants in the dock were sentenced to prison terms from twelve to sixteen years for their part in the Surkhandaria rebellion. Of these three, one is a citizen of Uzbekistan and two are ethnic Uzbeks from Tajikistan and Kazakhstan, respectively. They belonged to the IMU force which had moved into Uzbekistan from Tajikistan.

The prosecution had asked for ten death sentences. Both the prosecution and the defense may appeal the prison sentences. Namangani and Yuldash may appeal to President Karimov to exercise clemency and commute their death sentences. The two and their followers have in recent years been moving between various havens in Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Iran, at times with the assistance of Tajik authorities and Russian border troops in Tajikistan.

Solih never belonged to the IMU. He was a nationally known writer, leader of the Erk [Freedom] Democratic Party and an unsuccessful presidential candidate against Karimov in 1991. Soon afterward the party was banned and Solih went into exile. He was based mostly in Turkey until forced to move to Norway in 1999. Erk and Solih’s program was secular, nationalist, Turkic-oriented, nonviolent and basically pro-Western.

One of the witnesses in the Tashkent trial–who is currently serving a prison term for his involvement in the February 1999 bomb attacks–testified that he had earlier arranged for Yuldash and Namangani a total of seventeen meetings with Solih in Turkey and elsewhere. According to this witness, the three agreed on the short-term goal of deposing Karimov and setting up a coalition government in place of the existing system. But–according to the same testimony–they disagreed over long-term goals, because IMU’s leaders envisaged an Islamic state whereas Solih stood for secular Turkic nationalism.

That testimony may well have been secured through coercion, as is often the case in Uzbek trials. Yet there has been no lack of indications in the last two years that Solih made some contact and some tactical compromises with the IMU. He has also shared with them the airwaves of Iranian state radio. All that has made it possible for the Uzbek authorities to portray the IMU and Solih as components of a united opposition, blurring the distinctions between them. That amalgamation and Solih’s conviction may now be used by Uzbekistan to request his extradition from Norway.

The court proceedings, underway since October 30, were selectively televised on a daily basis with the focus on the prosecution’s case, witness accounts of IMU atrocities, and two defendants’ repentance. Almost 700 individuals–mostly relatives of those killed, as well as some who were themselves maimed in IMU attacks–figured as co-plaintiffs in the trial (Uzbek Television, November 2, 7-8, 10, 13, 17; Tashkent Radio, November 9, 13, 17; Khalk Sozy, November 16; Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Mashhad), November 13; see the Monitor, August 29, 31, September 8, 15, October 2, November 1; Fortnight in Review, September 8, November 3).