Activist from Uzbek opposition group arrested

An activist from an opposition Uzbek group has been arrested, the latest in a government push to crackdown on political dissent in the authoritarian ex-Soviet state, a leader of group said Monday. Nogira Khidoyatova of the Sunshine Uzbekistan group was arrested Sunday night at the airport in the capital Tashkent, said her sister and group coordinator Nigara Khidoyatova.

"It was a pre-planned action," Khidoyatova told The Associated Press. The prosecutor-general's office said it could not immediately comment on the claim. Sunshine Uzbekistan, which counts about 100 people as members, was formed in April in the wake of the uprising in neighboring Kyrgyzstan when demonstrators protesting alleged election fraud stormed the presidential headquarters and drove out President Askar Akayev, who fled the country and resigned.

It later became a vocal critic of the bloody action in the Uzbek city of Andijan, when troops unleashed a hail of gunfire. Rights groups say more than 700 people were killed, many of them peaceful demonstrators; the government contends the uprising was encouraged by Islamic extremists, and puts the death toll at 187.

In October, the chairman of the group Sanjar Umarov was arrested for alleged embezzlement and tax evasion. Nigara Khidoyatova's husband Arfijan Aidin was shot dead earlier this month in an attack that she says was related to her opposition activities.

"The prosecutors have received carte blanche to eradicate opposition," Khidoyatova said Monday. She said Umarov is being mistreated in custody and that his health is deteriorating.

Uzbek President Islam Karimov has conducted a crackdown on political foes and Muslims, shutting down opposition parties and jailing thousands. No group has been able to mount a serious challenge to his rule.

In the last two months, Uzbek courts have sentenced more than 100 men to up to 22 years apiece for their roles in the Andijan uprising. The trials have been criticized by outside observers as a government-orchestrated show with testimony coerced by torture, reports the AP. I.L.

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