The first 15 people charged with organizing an uprising in eastern Uzbekistan that ended in a bloodbath and caused an international outcry went on trial yesterday in the capital Tashkent.
The 15 men sat impassively in a metal cage in the courtroom as the judge presented the prosecutors -- 10 men dressed in blue uniform. A group of state-appointed defense lawyers was also present. Court officials did not permit the suspects' families lawyer to enter.
The brutal suppression of the May 13 revolt badly damaged Uzbekistan's relations with the West, as Uzbek President Islam Karimov rejected calls for an international probe after rights groups said more than 700 people were killed. The government of Karimov, who has ruled for 16 years and tolerates no dissent, has blamed the uprising on extremists and put the death toll at 187.
Reflecting the strain in diplomatic ties, Uzbekistan, which hosted US troops since 2001, abruptly ordered them in July to leave within six months. At the same time, Uzbekistan has deepened cooperation with Russia and China, both of which offered strong support for the government's handling of the uprising.
Uzbek authorities also lashed out at Western media. The Uzbek Prosecutor General's office accused them of waging an "information war" against the ex-Soviet nation, and state television referred to Western journalists as "hyenas and jackals."
Uzbek prosecutors alleged that participants had planned to overthrow the government and create an Islamic state. They said they had been trained in neighboring Kyrgyzstan and received funding from abroad. Deputy chief prosecutor Anvar Nabiyev said that three of the 15 defendants were Kyrgyz.
Kyrgyz authorities denied allegations of training camps in their country, but said they had arrested three Kyrgyz citizens and were investigating another 36 on suspicion of involvement in the uprising. Southern Kyrgyzstan has a major ethnic Uzbek population with close family links across the border.