Two Uzbek detainees die of torture - relatives

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ALMATY, Nov 22 (Reuters) Two prisoners who died in jail in Uzbekistan this month had marks on their bodies consistent with torture, relatives and human rights campaigners said today.

Both men had been in jail on charges of Islamist extremism in the town of Andizhan, scene of a bloody uprising in 2005.

Uzbekistan's Interior Ministry press service and penal system officials could not be reached for comment today.

Some Western nations have accused Uzbek leader Islam Karimov, who is seeking re-election in next month's presidential vote, of allowing human rights violations and systematic torture in jails.

He has denied those allegations.

One prisoner, Takhir Nurmukhamedov, 42, died of torture on Nov. 13, said a close relative who had seen his body.

''The condition of his body was very bad. It was badly injured. It was clear that he was subjected to inhuman, severe torture,'' the relative said on condition of anonymity.

''I saw him in his Andizhan prison two months ago. He arrived limping, which was strange, and he couldn't hear well. I asked him what happened, and he said he was being tortured very badly.'' The other prisoner, Fitrat Salokhiddinov, 40, died in the same prison around Nov 12 , said Surat Ikramov, a prominent rights activist.

He said he had been told by the man's relatives that he had been tortured, but could not give any details. Salokhiddinov's relatives could not be reached for comment.

''The number of torture cases has risen and they became more severe,'' Ikramov said. ''According to our estimates, more than 20 people have died over the past two months.'' Karimov, in power for 18 years, has denied widespread human rights violations and torture in jails. He says his government has to take tough measures against Islamist militants who he says seek to topple his secular, post-Soviet government.

His ties with the West deteriorated after troops opened fire on a crowd in Andizhan in May 2005. Witnesses said hundreds of people were killed. The government put the toll at 187 and said they were mainly terrorists and security forces.

Rights groups have accused Uzbekistan of using what it sees as a growing threat of Islamist militancy as an excuse to press on with a wider crackdown on dissent and religious freedom.

In a November report, Human Rights Watch urged the United Nations to press Uzbekistan over what it described as ''torture and ill-treatment'' in Uzbek jails. A U.N. anti-torture committee is meeting this week to discuss Uzbekistan and other nations.

REUTERS RSA RN2040

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