Karimov Is 'Rewriting History'

APAndijan residents looking at a burning car May 13, 2005. A report says Tashkent is still persecuting Andijan suspects.
Three years after gunning down unarmed protesters in the city of Andijan, Uzbek authorities are still persecuting people they believe are linked to the unrest, an international rights group says in a report released Monday.

Human Rights Watch says returning refugees are beaten and tortured, while their children are ostracized by teachers as the offspring of enemies of the state.

One refugee's father was given a stark warning: Bring your son's family back to Uzbekistan or "you will simply disappear."

The pressure is part of an effort by President Islam Karimov's government "to rewrite history and silence all within the country who might question its version of what happened in Andijan," Human Rights Watch says in the report.

Rights groups and witnesses say that on May 13, 2005, Uzbek government forces opened fire and killed more than 700 people, mostly unarmed protesters in the eastern city. Thousands had been demonstrating after an armed uprising sparked by anger over the trial of local businessmen on Islamic extremism charges.

The Uzbek government says the death toll was 187, however, and attributes all civilian deaths to gunmen.

Three years after the Andijan incident, Human Rights Watch says the crackdown continues.

The New York-based organization urged the international community to hold the government accountable. It suggested the United States has been too soft on the Uzbek leadership and criticized the European Union for suspending sanctions imposed after the massacre. "Tashkent's international partners … should make ending the ongoing persecution in Andijan a core objective of their engagement with Tashkent," the organization's regional director Holly Cartner said in a statement.

Relatives of those who fled and refugees who later returned "have been subject to interrogations, constant surveillance, ostracism and in at least one case, an overt threat to life," says the 44-page report, based on interviews in July 2007 and March 2008 with Uzbek refugees, mostly in Kyrgyzstan.

One man told Human Rights Watch that police had interrogated him harshly and pressured him to persuade his older son, who fled after the massacre, to return to Uzbekistan. The man said he had unsuccessfully appealed for the release of his younger son, who was convicted of involvement in the unrest. After that, a plainclothes officer told him that he had three days to bring his older son's family back. He recalled telling the officer that he did not fear prison, and said the officer replied: "Who will send you to prison? … You will simply disappear."