Group urges Uzbek authorities to end persecution of rights defenders

An international rights group urged Uzbek authorities to end what it called growing systematic persecution of rights defenders in this ex-Soviet republic. The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights named in a statement Thursday about a dozen members of an Uzbek rights group who in the past several months had been subjected to beatings, blackmail, telephone threats or other forms of pressure. "The authorities attempt to discredit human rights defenders in the eyes of society and to provoke a feeling of general mistrust toward them," the statement said.

Munozhat Imamova, a member of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, was three months pregnant when unknown attackers beat her up in the central city of Jizzak in August, it said. She lost her child as a result.

Several other members of the group were hospitalized after similar attacks, the Vienna-based IHF said.

Uzbek President Islam Karimov has stepped up a crackdown on civil society and any forms of dissent after an anti-government revolt in the eastern city of Andijan in May that was bloodily suppressed by government troops. Karimov, a former Communist boss, has banned all opposition groups and his government controls all media, reports the AP. I.L.

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