'39 torture deaths' in Uzbekistan
At least 39 people have died of torture in Uzbekistan jails this year amid a growing crackdown on religious groups and government critics, a respected rights group has said.
The Independent Human Rights Defenders Group said the figure is based on information from the victims' families and former inmates. It added that the actual number of such deaths could be higher, but many are not reported because the families fear official reprisals.
In 2009, the group registered 20 prison deaths by torture.
Prison authorities often return bodies to relatives in sealed coffins to conceal torture, the report said. Police officers force the families to ignore Muslim burial rites and bury the unopened coffins, it said.
"They bring the bodies late at night, tell the relatives to bury them at dawn and then patrol their houses for several days after the funeral," said the group's chairman Surat Ikramov.
Muslim law prescribes the washing of bodies and burials in a shroud.
Uzbek officials were not available for comment.
US-based Human Rights Watch said in 2007 that Uzbek authorities routinely beat prisoners and used electric shocks, asphyxiation and sexual humiliation to extract information and confessions.
A forensic report commissioned by the British Embassy concluded that in 2002 two jailed rights activists were boiled to death.
Worried by the revival of Muslim traditions and the threat of radical Islamism from neighbouring Afghanistan, the government of former Communist boss Islam Karimov has for years suppressed peaceful Muslims who practice their faith outside government-approved mosques.