Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 128

The Supreme Court of Uzbekistan on June 28 handed down sentences in the trial of twenty-two Islamic militants whom it found guilty of involvement in the February 16 bomb attacks in Tashkent and other crimes. The blasts killed sixteen bystanders and wrecked government buildings, narrowly missing President Islam Karimov and government members. The court sentenced six defendants to death, eight to twenty years imprisonment each, and the other eight to prison terms ranging from ten to eighteen years. The charges included conspiracy to assassinate the head of state and other government leaders, to overthrow the constitutional setup and to establish an Islamic state; it also included premeditated murders, storing arms and explosives, violent robberies to finance a “jihad,” and unlawfully crossing state borders. Some of those sentenced were found to have received paramilitary training in the camps of Afghan, Tajik and Chechen Islamic militants.

The prosecution linked the defendants to the Islamic radicals Tahir Yuldash and Juma Namangani–leaders of Uzbek groups based in Iran and Tajikistan, respectively–as well as to Muhammad Salih, a secular Uzbek politician and defeated presidential candidate, resident in recent years in Turkey and now reportedly in Scandinavia.

Relatives of the sixteen Uzbeks killed in the February 16 bomb explosions attended the trial and excoriated the defendants. The defendants’ families gathered to wail outside the court building after the sentencing. Ringleader Kasymbek Zakirov, 43, interviewed on national television, repeated his courtroom statement that he “deserved the capital punishment,” “agreed with it” and asked for forgiveness. “Almost all” of the defendants were officially said to have confessed to their crimes “fully or partially”–a formula that may leave the door open to some clemency measure. Karimov seemed to suggest that possibility by remarking on national television that these “criminals are, after all, sons of the Uzbek people. I feel sorry for them; they were led astray on this awful path.”

The defendants were represented by nineteen lawyers who, at the end of the trial, unanimously found the sentences “fair.” The sentences may be appealed within ten days. International human rights groups are likely to turn to Karimov for clemency and to question, if not the verdicts as such, at least the procedures which were followed during the investigation and the month-long trial.

The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), led by Yuldash, lost no time threatening to retaliate from its base in neighboring Iran. In a broadcast aired by the Uzbek-language service of Iranian state radio, “the IMU’s mojahedin pledge[d] before Allah to resolutely continue fighting the tyranny in Uzbekistan, establish a government based on the Holy Koran and avenge all Muslims who perished through oppression.” Iranian radio has, since March of this year, repeatedly aired IMU threats of violence and appeals to insurrection in Uzbekistan (Tashkent Radio and TV, Itar-Tass, AP, Reuters, June 28-29; Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Mashhad), June 29; see also the Monitor, May 13, June 4, 28).

[Note: The Monitor will not be published on Monday, July 5 due to the Independence day holiday. Publication will resume on Tuesday, July 6.]

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