Two Uzbek men tortured to death in prison

Two Uzbeks imprisoned for Islamic extremism have died in prison. Relatives and a rights activist reported that their bodies displayed signs of brutal torture.

The torture of people convicted of alleged Islamic extremism has increased ahead of next month's presidential elections in Uzbekistan, human rights advocate Surat Ikramov said.

Thousands of devout Muslims in the former Soviet nation have been targeted by authorities fearful of the growing threat of Islamic fundamentalism in Central Asia.

The body of Takhir Nurmukhammedov, 42, was delivered to his family on Nov. 15 and it was clear he had been "brutally, inhumanly tortured," one of his sisters said.

The sister, speaking on condition of anonymity because she feared reprisals, said she had visited Nurmukhammedov in prison in September and he told her that he had lost hearing and had a leg broken as a result of "incessant" torture. The family never received a death certificate with the cause of death, she said.

A police squad followed the family to the cemetery, preventing other mourners from paying their respects, the sister said.

Nurmukhammedov was arrested in April 2002 and convicted of membership in Hizb-ut Tahrir, a banned Islamic sect, and plotting to overthrow the government. He was sentenced to eight years in prison.

Ikramov said the case against Nurmukhammedov was fabricated as part of a government crackdown on Muslims that convene outside government-sanctioned mosques.

On Nov. 13, the body of another prisoner convicted of Islamic extremism was delivered to his family with signs of torture, Ikramov said. Fitrat Salakhiddinov, 40, was also buried under police surveillance.

Police surrounded his family's house and prevented reporters from speaking with his relatives.

The Interior Ministry refused to comment Thursday, and no one answered the phone at the central prison administration.

Both men were imprisoned in the eastern city of Andijan, where government troops put down a revolt in 2005. Rights groups said at least 700 mostly peaceful protesters were killed. The government accused Islamic militants of fomenting the violence and put the death toll at 187.

Ikramov said he knows of at least six inmates who have died of apparent torture in Uzbek prisons this year and believes the real number to be much higher.

"This fall there has been an epidemic of torture applied to people languishing in Uzbek prison for alleged Islamic extremism," said the rights defender, who was kidnapped and severely beaten in 2003 by men he said were sent by the Uzbek secret services.

He linked the repression to the Dec. 23 election in which President Islam Karimov is running for a third term despite a constitutional two-term limit.

Rights groups say torture and mistreatment of prisoners is widespread in Uzbekistan and criminal trials are often rigged.

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Author`s name Angela Antonova