Human Rights Watch on Tuesday criticized Uzbek authorities for blocking access to the trial of a prominent rights defender charged with blackmail. Mutabar Tojiboeva, a rights activist and Nobel Peace prize nominee, was a vocal critic of the government's harsh response to a revolt last year in the eastern city of Andijan, where government troops fired on thousands of protesters.
Tojiboeva went on trial Monday in the town of Soldatsky near the capital, Tashkent, for alleged blackmail, embezzlement and slander. Human Rights Watch said in a statement that Uzbek police have blocked the court building where the trial is being held and set up check points along the roads to the town. The group's representatives were turned away by police and denied access.
"Uzbek authorities are going further than ever to prevent observers from monitoring this trial," said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "We are deeply concerned that Tojiboeva get a fair and transparent hearing," Cartner said. Uzbek President Islam Karimov has ruled the former Soviet state with an iron fist for more than 15 years.
The Andijan uprising last May was triggered by the trial of 23 businessmen accused of religious extremism. Tojiboeva worked with families of the businessmen, giving them legal advice. She was arrested in October.
In the past four months, Uzbek courts have convicted 151 people in closed-door trials criticized by human rights groups as a government-orchestrated show with evidence coerced by torture, reports the AP. I.L.
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