World Bulletin/News Desk
Uzbekistan has released five high-profile prisoners jailed for political or religious reasons, including an accused member of a Muslim group who studied in the United States, the U.S. State Department said in its annual human rights report.
Abdulaziz Dadahanov, who is in his mid-30s and studied at a Connecticut college from 2001-2003, was among the many Uzbeks jailed in recent years under allegations of “religious extremism” under strongman Islam Karimov. He was serving an eight-year sentence.
The Central Asian nation, citing what it describes as internal threats from “Islamic militancy,” has suppressed all but state-approved religious practices, U.S. officials and rights groups say.
Approved mosques can operate, but the government arrests Muslims by accusing them of being associated with “extreme” political programs.
In February 2009, Dadahanov and several others were sentenced for membership in the Nur group, a banned religious organization associated with Turkish Muslim scholars.
Reports of their trial said the defendants testified that they were tortured and that the evidence against them was fabricated.
Steve Swerdlow of the Human Rights Watch group said on Tuesday that Dadahanov was a civic-minded man who fell prey to an Uzbek government campaign against religious practice outside state controls.
"Hundreds of people are convicted on dubious charges of 'religious extremism' like Dadahanov each year and sent to a prison system known for the systematic and widespread use of torture," said Swerdlow, a Central Asia researcher.
Judith Skartvedt, whose family Dadahanov lived with while studying in America, recalls him as an observant young Muslim who helped deliver food to Connecticut soup kitchens.
It said serious human rights abuses continue in Uzbekistan, citing instances of torture and abuse of detainees, and harsh prison conditions.
The five - also including two human rights activists and two members of the Jehovah's Witnesses, were freed last year, the State Department said in its 2012 survey of human rights around the world.
Uzbek officials in Tashkent could not be reached for comment and Uzbekistan's embassy in Washington did not return a phone call.
Karimov, a former Communist Party boss during Soviet rule, has ruled Uzbekistan since it became independent in 1991.
Ties between Uzbekistan and the United States have improved, with Tashkent helping to establish transit routes for cargo to and from U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Last year the Obama administration resumed some military aid to Tashkent.Last Mod: 01 Mayıs 2013, 13:48