Thursday, May 19, 2005

Bloody Friday

Few people may have heard of Uzbekistan until last week, when violent riots errupted in Andijan , leaving many unnumbered citizens dead. The government claims these individuals were "Islamic terrorists", not civilians, while the international press claims the opposite.

To understand the complexity of this issue, the "democracy" of Uzbekistan needs to be understood.

Like so many other Soviet satellites, Uzbekistan declared independence in 1991 with the immediate goal of setting up a constitution with a separation of powers not unlike the US Constitution. In practice however, the executive branch filters the "free press", controls the judicary and limits the legislature session to only a few days a year, giving it barely a chance to meet publicly, much less pass laws. In 1995, one of those laws allowed for a referendem vote (without opposition) on sitting presidencies, rather than going through the extended democratic election process.

Thus, Islam Karimov has been serving in the role of president for almost 15 years now, allowing a bicameral parliament but restricting opposition parties from registering in "elections". All provincial governers are selected and replaced by president Karimov without any vote or referendum and in 2001, parliament endorsed a proposal to make Islam Karimov "president for life". Effectively, Karimov is the new Uzbek dictator, using the goodwill of 9/11 to prop his regime up under international scrutiny. Uzbekistan currently imprisions almost 6,000 "suspected extremists" which by law, have no legal recourse short of confession.

Amnesty International issued this statement in July of 2004:

Thousands of people have been detained and imprisoned in Uzbekistan on accusations of "religious extremism". Among them are members and presumed members of independent Islamic congregations, members of banned Islamist and secular opposition parties and movements, and their relatives. Amnesty International has received persistent allegations that police have tortured many of those arrested to extract 'confessions'. Heavy sentences, including death sentences, have been imposed after trials which appear to have been grossly unfair.
How does this tyranny survive despite the claim "democracy and freedom are on the march"? BBC News hits the nail on the head with its report on Uzbekistan:

President Karimov has been able to pin the unrest on Islamic extremists, of which there are some active in Uzbekistan. This has allowed him to cow the rest of the population by making them afraid of religious extremism.

It has also enabled him to attract support from both Russia and China, who face their own Muslim fundamentalists. He has also had support from the West, especially the United States, which has an airbase near the Afghan border.

The West has known perfectly well what has been going on in Uzbekistan in recent years. But the West has trodden carefully, given Uzbekistan's role in supporting the war in Afghanistan and the country's resources of natural gas.
After the recent killings in Andijan, international scrutiny is finally putting pressure on Karimov and his despotism. BBC News details the step by step slide from peace into violence:

May 12th
People have been protesting peacefully outside a city court for four months over the trial of 23 local businessmen accused of Islamic extremism. All outside accounts describe the protestors as "quiet, orderly and very well organised." Then, late in the evening some protestors are arrested and taken away.

May 13th
Gunmen storm the jail in the early hours and free the 23 accused men, their supporters and scores of other inmates. A small number of people are reported killed during the violence. By early morning, several thousand people are gathered in the town's main square.

Roads to the city centre are blocked and protesters control the area, including government offices. No security forces are in evidence, but government troops and tanks are said to be concentrated at the town's airport.

The crowd on Andijan's main square in front of the provincial administration building swells to about 10,000, the news agency's correspondent reports at 1446 (0946 GMT), and speakers use a "free" microphone to vent anger at economic problems. Some chant slogans against President Islam Karimov and the Uzbek government.

The initial assault by security forces begins with a convoy of armoured vehicles opening fire on the crowd. Many people flee. A large number of protesters - including gunmen and 10 police officers who have been held hostage - moves from the city centre towards School No 15, just over 1km away, unnamed witnesses tell Reuters news agency.

An armoured car fires into the crowd outside the school. Armed soldiers stand guard at the school, but people are being allowed in to identify relatives.

Reports later emerge that injured people were summarily executed, and that many bodies, especially of women and children, were taken away and concealed by the authorities, says Galima Bukharbaeva. There is evidence to suggest government security forces carried out further killings once the mass shooting was over. Once the crowd had dispersed, eyewitnesses say the security forces went around finishing off the injured as they lay on the ground.

May 14th
On Saturday morning, the authorities cart off most of the bodies using three
trucks and a bus, according to witnesses.

A secondary school, a technical college and local parks are turned into impromptu morgues. Hundreds of Andijan residents search for missing relatives - on Babur Square itself and later at the collection points.

President Karimov appears at a press conference in Tashkent. He blames the violence on Islamic extremists who he says used women, old men and children as a "human shield". He puts the death toll at 10 soldiers and "many others".

The 50-year-old father of one missing man says: "Karimov's people shot women and children. I saw young men with their hands up, shouting 'Don't shoot'. But they just shot them."
This just sickens me. No government that does this to its own people can be or should be trusted. Before this democratic domino can fall, regime change is in order. I only hope the US and other nations that value human decency will see through Karimov's ploy and treat him for what he is: a criminal of the worst kind.

Email your senators to demand a foreign policy that deals with the reality. Donate to Amnesty International to help bring Karimov to justice. Help the Uzbek refugees that have fled into Kyrgyzstan by giving to Refugees International. We need to get our US government and the international community at large to match their actions to their rhetoric!


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