Yesterday, May 13, marked five years since Uzbek security troops killed hundreds of anti-government protesters in the city of Andijan. People were protesting against harsh socio-economic environment and repressive politics in the region. The government decided to take strong measures at the very early stage of the protests. That day in 2005 has come to be known as the “Andijan Massacre.”
On that day, government troops shot and killed civilian protesters on the orders of President Islam Karimov. According to the official data, the death toll was 187. However, witnesses and experts say much more people, including women and children, were killed there and the estimated number ranges from several hundreds to nearly 1,000.
From the very beginning Uzbekistan authorities made it clear that it is their internal issue and the coverage of the massacre in Western and local media was not welcomed. As a result, Karimov’s regime booted foreign broadcasters out of the country and purged the remnants of the local independent press by jailing and intimidating reporters.
Even after 5 years of the massacre almost no one in Uzbekistan is talking about it, local bloggers and journalists living in fear of Uzbek regime are silent, only those staying abroad are brave enough to remember that brutality. Analyzing the civil activity during the past five years Sarah Kendzior writes on Registan.net:
“There has not been a large-scale protest in Uzbekistan since 2005 — not because people in Uzbekistan are content with their government, but because they are terrified to speak out against it. The Andijon events saw the Uzbek people’s worst suspicions confirmed and President Karimov’s most horrific promises kept: “Such people must be shot in the head,” he warned in a 1998 speech about Islamic extremists, with the unstated caveat that in Uzbekistan, anyone can be labeled an Islamic extremist. In Andijon, Uzbeks finally learned how far their government was willing to go.”
Although in public both the government and citizens have seemingly forgotten the Andijan events, Shakhisa Yakub writes [ru]:
Refugees keep saying that their relatives living in Uzbekistan are still threatened by the police and that the security authorities force them to convince refugees from their families to return to Uzbekistan [in order to prosecute them].
This is confirmed by the story of refugee Dilorom Abdukadirova who came back to Uzbekistan and was detained by the Uzbek police despite their previous promises not to arrest her. The online advocacy campaign had very little success. Following Abdukarimova’s arrest on March 12, the Andijan City Court accused her of illegally crossing the Uzbek border, attempting to overthrow the constitutional order and participation in riots, and sentenced her to 10 years in jail.
The Karimov’s regime is harsh even with the president's relatives attempting to speak up. The Uzbek president’s nephew, journalist Dzhamshid Karimov has been locked in a psychiatric ward because of his critical reports. There was no even any court hearing or decision for this case.
When commemorating the World Press Freedom Day on May 3, U.S. President Barrack Obama included Uzbekistan into the list of countries that jail journalists for their work.
But Muzaffar Suleymanov from the In CPJ Blog believes that this is not enough and should be the first step on the way to improve the situation:
“World leaders have a moral obligation to demand justice for Dilorom Abdukadirova and all others who are jailed on trumped-up charges, tortured, and intimidated by the Uzbek police, or continue to live in fear of the Uzbek regime.
[…] The Uzbek regime has proven to be immune to condemning statements or symbolic actions, like sanctions imposed by the European Union in 2005, which did not stop the regime from jailing its critics.
Maybe it’s time to publicly engage Uzbek envoys, like Ambassador to Spain Gulnora Karimova and Ambassador to UNESCO Lola Karimova — both daughters of the Uzbek president — and demand that they explain the detention of their cousin? After five years, is it not time for justice?”