In May 2005, unrest in Uzbekistan came to a head when armed men are said to have attacked a number of military barracks and government buildings in Andizhan.
The men broke into the city’s prison to free hundreds of prisoners. They later occupied a government building on the city square after taking hostages.
At first the men demanded the release of 23 local businessmen charged with being members of banned Islamic group Akramiya, but the group went on to order that the government free all those jailed on suspicion of belonging to the organisation.
From the early hours of 13 May, thousands of civilians gathered in the city square to protest in support of the men. According to witnesses, security forces fired indiscriminately into the crowds, wounding and killing demonstrators. The state claimed a death toll of 168, but other sources put the figure at between 400 and 1,000 unarmed civilians, including numerous children.
Uzbekistan president Islam Karimov maintains that the security forces did not kill anyone and that all those who died were killed by terrorists.
Following the demonstration, hundreds suspected of involvement in the events were detained and many were tortured. Dozens were later tried and sentenced in proceedings that Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other international human rights organisation say fell short of international standards of justice.
Journalists and human rights activists were among those persecuted. Uzbek reporter Aleksei Volosevich was in Andizhan on the day of the protests and gave an independent account of the events on Russian-language website www.ferghana.ru. Volosevich was subsequently attacked by five men near his home in Tashkent after the national governmental newspaper Pravda Vostoka accused him of treason against the state.
In response to Uzbekistan’s refusal to allow an independent international investigation into the Andizhan events, in November 2005 the EU announced an embargo on arms sales to the country and a visa ban on 12 senior Uzbek government ministers and officials. In December, the UN General Assembly also urged the Uzbek authorities to stop their “harassment and detention of eyewitnesses”.
Maisy Weicherding, Amnesty International’s researcher on Uzbekistan, said: “The authorities in Uzbekistan have blatantly ignored the calls of the international community for an impartial, independent and thorough international investigation. One year on, the need for such an investigation remains as pertinent and as pressing as ever.”