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Uzbekistan: Activist Buried After Dying In Police Custody

The body of Uzbek human rights activist and former parliament deputy Shovrukh Ruzimuradov was handed over to his family by police during the past weekend. It was the first information his family had received of Ruzimuradov's fate since he was arrested in mid-June during a police search of his home. RFE/RL correspondent Bruce Pannier reports that some believe Ruzimuradov may have died after being tortured in police custody.

Prague, 11 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Uzbek human rights activist Shovrukh Ruzimuradov was buried on 8 July in his home village of Ola-Kargha.

The 44-year-old father of seven was taken into custody on 15 June, when Uzbek police discovered gun cartridges, drugs, and leaflets from a banned religious group in Ruzimuradov's home. His family knew nothing official of his fate until his dead body was returned home on 7 July.

Police said Ruzimuradov had killed himself in despair after being questioned while in custody. But Tolib Yakubov, the head of the non-governmental Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, or HRSU, said Ruzimuradov's battered corpse told a different story:

"[Ruzimuradov's] older brother [told me] that when they washed Ruzimuradov [in preparation for burial], there were bruises all over his body, and some of his organs were missing. The people who delivered Ruzimuradov's body said that he had hung himself."

Both HRSU members and Ruzimuradov's family say police planted the gun cartridges and other incriminating evidence found in the activist's home. The New York-based Human Rights Watch released a statement on 10 July expressing concern that Ruzimuradov may have died as a result of ill treatment while in custody.

Both Human Rights Watch and Yakubov said the road to Ola-Kargha was blockaded by police on 8 July, preventing HRSU members and other human rights activists from attending Ruzimuradov's funeral. Human Rights Watch reported that "police threatened to arrest [activists] and 'tear them to pieces' if they investigated the case further."

Ruzimuradov was considered a long-standing opponent of the Uzbek government. He was elected to Uzbekistan's parliament in 1990, while the country was still a Soviet republic. Soon after, he joined the opposition Birlik (Unity) Party, and later became head of the party in his home province of Kashkadaryo.

In 1991, Ruzimuradov was charged with organizing an unsanctioned rally in his province and was jailed for four months. After being released, he was dismissed from his parliament post.

In 1998, he was arrested again for possession of gun cartridges, which he claimed had been planted by police. He was released from custody at the request of then-OSCE Chairman and Polish Foreign Minister Bronislav Geremek.

The suspicious circumstances surrounding Ruzimuradov's death mark another strike against Uzbekistan's already poor human rights record. International rights organizations have chronicled numerous accounts of police torture and false arrests since the country gained independence in 1991.

The U.S. State Department, in its latest annual human rights report released in February, cited credible reports that mistreatment by security forces in Uzbekistan had resulted in the deaths of several citizens being held in police custody.

The report stated that "police and [National Security Service officers] tortured, beat and harassed persons. The security forces arbitrarily arrested [citizens] on false charges, frequently planting narcotics, weapons or forbidden literature on them."

The Independent Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan called Ruzimuradov's death "a routine political murder."

(Biloliddin Hasanov of the Uzbek Service contributed to this report.)