The first 15 people charged with organizing of riots in eastern Uzbekistan that ended in a bloodbath and caused an international outcry went on trial Tuesday in the capital Tashkent.
The 15 men, most in their 20s and 30s, sat impassively in a metal cage in the courtroom as the judge presented the prosecutors 10 men dressed in blue uniform. A group of defense lawyers was also present, all of them appointed by the state. Court officials did not permit a lawyer whom suspects' families had retained 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 Islamic extremists and put the death toll at 187.
Reflecting the strain in diplomatic ties, Uzbekistan, which hosted U.S. troops since 2001 for operations in Afghanistan, 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 repeatedly at Western media outlets. Last week, 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 who covered the Andijan uprising as "hyenas and jackals."
Uzbek prosecutors alleged that participants in the revolt 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, reports the AP.