The courts in Uzbekistan continue to be used as a tool of government repression.
Most recently, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or O-S-C-E, called for the government to hold new trials for fifteen defendants found guilty of taking part in the May 2005 Andijan events, in which armed men forced their way into a prison and took over government buildings. In the ensuing violence, hundreds of civilians were killed, many reportedly by government troops.
Human rights groups called the court proceedings a "show trial" and said they believe the confessions of the fifteen were obtained under pressure. The O-S-C-E report urges the government of President Islam Karimov to "ensure that any retrial fully complies with international fair trial standards." The men were sentenced to twenty years in prison by Uzbekistan's highest court.
Forced confessions are commonly used to convict defendants in Uzbek courts. Recently, eight Uzbek men were convicted for participating in an illegal Islamic religious group. At the beginning of the trial, five of the defendants testified that they had been tortured and severely beaten on their backs, necks, and heads while in police detention. Ultimately, the defendants signed confessions, but testified that they had done so simply to end the abuse. Nevertheless, the court found all eight men guilty, sentencing one man to two years in a labor colony, and the others to two to three years of corrective labor.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak, said with regard to Uzbekistan, "there is ample evidence that both police and other security forces have been and are continuing to systematically practice torture, in particular against dissidents or people who are opponents of the regime."
Methods of torture in Uzbekistan include beatings with truncheons, suffocation, electric shock, deprivation of food and water, sexual abuse, and threats of physical harm to relatives.
The court system in Uzbekistan should not be used as a tool of repression by the government. Every citizen deserves the right to a fair trial by an independent judiciary. Torturing detainees for any reason is a gross violation of Uzbekistan's O-S-C-E and UN commitments to uphold fundamental human rights.
Ultimately, repression never brings lasting peace, stability or prosperity. That is why the United States, said U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, "continues to hope the government of Uzbekistan will turn back from its current course and make a strategic choice in favor of reform."
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.