Rights activists have welcomed a call by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on the Uzbek leadership to proceed to a retrial of 15 defendants convicted of involvement in anti-government protests in the eastern city of Andijan last May.
"I see this as a positive move because almost all trials of those who [allegedly] took part in the Andijan events had been secret and closed. The thing is that in many cases we did not even know where and when those trials were held," Surat Ikramov, head of the local rights organisation, Initiative Group of Independent Rights Activists of Uzbekistan (IGIRAU), said from the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, on Tuesday.
"The trial of the first 15 defendants with regard to the Andijan events was a show, where many defendants could not access independent lawyers and there have been many violations of national law and international [trial] standards," Ikramov added.
His colleague Tolib Yakubov, head of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan (HRSU), another local rights NGO, echoed that view. "This is a very positive thing," he said.
"The 15 defendants did not have independent lawyers, they had state-appointed lawyers, who [reportedly] acted like prosecutors," Yakubov said.
Their comments came one day after the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) raised its concerns regarding violations of the right to a fair trial in a new report on the monitoring of Andijan defendants trials in Uzbekistan in 2005.
"There are a number of concerns that this report raises - concerns about whether these people received a fair trial. These concerns are substantial enough for us to believe that a retrial would be necessary and a trial that would be in compliance with all international standards," Urdur Gunnarsdottir, a spokeswoman for OSCE/ODIHR, said from Warsaw.
The trials were held between September and November 2005. From the observations that the ODIHR monitors were able to make, concrete concerns arise of possible violations of the right to a lawyer in pre-trial stages, the right to a competent and effective counsel and the right to a public trial, Europe's largest security organisation said in a statement.
The OSCE said it was not possible to establish whether the defendants were represented by lawyers of their choice, had regular access to their lawyers and to other visitors such as family members.
Another concern is whether they had been informed promptly of the reasons for their arrest and of their right to legal counsel, or whether their rights during interrogation were upheld. Nor was it possible to confirm that they had not been coerced into making confessions, the OSCE remarked.
Some local rights groups have claimed that torture and coercing defendants, particularly those accused of anti-government activity, into confessions was not uncommon in the Uzbek law-enforcement system.
Less than a week ago, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak, reiterated his concern over the continuing systematic use of torture by the Uzbek government.
“There is systematic torture and the general conditions in pre-trial detention facilities are worse than in prison. There are even reports of electric shocks [administered in detention],” Nowak said earlier from Vienna, a charge Tashkent has flatly denied.
In an earlier report on the events in Andijan, the ODIHR made a series of recommendations to the Uzbek authorities, most of which remain relevant.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions