Associated Press, Aug. 8, 2002
TASHKENT, Uzbekistan – The bodies of two Uzbek prisoners who died in custody while jailed for alleged religious extremism were returned Thursday to their families for burial, the latest victims in this Central Asian country’s harsh crackdown on Islamic groups that has drawn international criticism.
Human rights activists say Muzafar Avazov and Khusnuddin Olimov were beaten and tortured to death by prison officers for refusing to abandon their religious convictions and attempting to practice religious rites in prison. Both men were jailed for membership in the banned Islamic group Hizb-ut-Tahrir.
Hizb-ut-Tahrir is a secretive organization which aims to create a caliphate ruled by the Islamic law of Shariah that would unite all Muslims. It emerged in the Middle East and after the Soviet collapse in 1991 and spread to former Soviet Central Asia and Azerbaijan. The group does not advocate violence.
Uzbekistan’s staunchly secular government strictly persecutes Hizb-ut-Tahrir, drawing criticism by international human rights groups for abuses in its crackdown on radical Islam. Thousands of innocent young men have been jailed for alleged membership in the banned group, human rights groups say.
Earlier this year, the U.S. State Department’s annual report on human rights criticized widespread police abuse in Uzbekistan. However, Uzbekistan’s relations with the United States have improved considerably since the Central Asian nation welcomed U.S. troops to an Uzbek air base for the military campaign in neighboring Afghanistan.