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Rights Activist Rejects Freedom House Findings --> 17 January 2005 -- An Uzbek rights activist has strongly rejected the findings of a panel assembled by a U.S. democracy watchdog that concluded that the death of a prisoner while in Uzbek custody was due to natural causes.

Rights groups and the family of Samandar Umarov say the man's body showed signs of torture after he died earlier this month while serving a jail term in an Uzbek prison.

But an investigation team formed by the U.S. Freedom House watchdog group today said Umarov likely died of a natural brain hemorrhage -- not from trauma. The announcement came at a press conference in Tashkent by Ronald Suarez, a U.S. forensic pathologist on the team.

"The death of Mister Umarov on 2 January 2005 did not occur as a result of unnatural causes," Suarez said. "That is, it did not occur as a result of trauma."

The team said they did not examine Umarov's body, instead making their conclusions based on medical documents provided by Uzbek authorities.

Surat Ikramov, an Uzbek rights activist who first called attention to the case, today told RFE/RL that he does not accept the panel's findings. He said it is not possible to make a legitimate forensic conclusion without examining the body.

(news agencies/RFE/RL)