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Relatives Allege Uzbek Prisoner Was Tortured To Death

The relatives of a prisoner who died suddenly in an Uzbek jail say they believe he was tortured to death, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reports.

Officials returned the body of Ulugbek Gaforov, 32, to relatives in Tashkent on January 4. He had head wounds and prison officials told relatives he died of a blood clot in his brain. Officials said he had been beaten by his cellmates.

His relatives told RFE/RL on January 5, when Gaforov was buried, that the marks on his body indicate he was tortured. They said they believe he was killed as a punishment for going on a hunger strike in the notorious Jasliq (Youth) prison in southwestern Uzbekistan.

His mother, Zukhra Gaforova, told RFE/RL that when she last saw her son, on November 4, he was in good health.

On November 19, Gaforov was among a group of inmates at Jasliq prison who went on a hunger strike to demand the release of their "Muslim brothers" from special disciplinary cells.

Several relatives of the strikers told RFE/RL that the hunger strike was violently suppressed and its organizers beaten and forcibly fed through tubes.

Nodira Karimova, the mother of another prisoner, waited 20 days outside the prison for a visit with her son. She told RFE/RL that many visits by relatives to Jasliq had been suspended because they believe the authorities didn't want relatives to see the prisoners' wounds.

In an interview with RFE/RL, Jasliq prison chief Qulolboy Berdiyev denied allegations about the way hunger strikers were treated and reports that inmates had been tortured.

Three mothers who were allowed to visit their sons in recent weeks told RFE/RL their sons showed signs of having been badly beaten. One said her son was unable to sit down because of his injuries.

Murodjon, the brother of Ulugbek Gaforov, told RFE/RL his brother was recently transferred to a high-security prison in the southeastern Navoi region and died there 15 days later.

Gaforov was convicted 11 years ago under article 159 of the criminal code for "infringement upon the constitution." Human rights groups say that "anticonstitutional" charges are widely exploited to repress thousands of active Muslims and opposition activists.

The Independent Human Rights Defenders of Uzbekistan group, which monitors religious persecution, recorded at least 39 deaths in 2010 of prisoners who had reportedly been physically abused.

Surat Ikramov, director of the rights group, told RFE/RL it is hard to monitor all such cases in Uzbekistan because relatives often keep such cases secret.

He said the official autopsy of inmates who die in prison usually does not reveal the actual reason for deaths but rather attributes a natural cause.