Uzbek court jails 8 suspected Islamists

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TASHKENT, Oct 29 (Reuters) An Uzbek court has jailed eight men for up to 10 years for belonging to a banned Islamist group, a human rights campaigner said today.

The activist said the men were charged in the Silk Road town of Bukhara on October 24 with being members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamist group banned by Central Asian governments, as well as for supporting Wahhabism, a strict form of Islam.

Surat Ikramov, a prominent Uzbek human rights campaigner following the case, accused prison officials of torturing the men during a prior investigation and said the trial violated Uzbek law.

Ukbek officials could not be reached for comment.

All eight men were sentenced to prison for between three and 10 years, Ikramov said in a statement issued from his Tashkent office.

The Uzbek government believes Hizb ut-Tahrir, which seeks to unite all Muslims into a pan-Islamic state, seeks to topple President Islam Karimov. The group says its means are peaceful.

Some Western governments have accused Karimov of allowing widespread human rights violations and torture in jails, and brooking no dissent in a country where people can follow only a state-approved version of Islam.

The Uzbek leader, expected to run in a December presidential election to extend his 18-years in office, says his tough rule is key to fighting security threats in the region.

REUTERS SKB ND1902

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