A court in southern Kyrgyzstan has sentenced 17 people to life imprisonment for mass killings and rioting during the ethnic violence that wracked the region in June, the trial judge said on Wednesday.
All the defendants were from the Uzbek ethnic minority. The convictions are likely to arouse fresh fears that Uzbeks are being singled out for prosecution over the violence that left at least 370 dead.
Fighting broke out on June 10 between mobs of ethnic Uzbek and Kyrgyz in the city of Osh and violence quickly spread to the nearby Jalal—Abad region.
Judge Damirbek Nazarov said the men sentenced on Tuesday killed 16 people in fighting near a cotton factory on the highway linking Osh with the capital, Bishkek. Two others were sentenced to 25 years.
“Although the defendants did not plead guilty, the copious testimonies and evidence gathered during the investigation was ample proof of their guilt,” Mr. Nazarov told The Associated Press.
No definitive independent investigation into the unrest has been carried out, but international rights activists and observers largely agree that the Uzbek minority sustained the bulk of the violence. Nonetheless, there have been few murder trials against ethnic Kyrgyz in connection with the violence.
Rights groups have complained that trials against Uzbeks have been marred by the intimidation of defendants and their lawyers by the relatives of alleged victims.
In a bid to ensure security at this latest trial, hearings were held in Nooken district, several hours by road from Jalal—Abad.
Around 400,000 people, mainly Uzbeks, were displaced at the height of the unrest and many are still racing to rebuild their homes as the peak of winter closes in.
Communities in southern Kyrgyzstan remain sharply divided and tensions have been heightened in recent weeks by attempts by Kyrgyz communities to claim fertile agricultural land belonging to ethnic Uzbeks.