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Protesters take part in a demonstration near the Uzbek Embassy in Berlin organized by Amnesty International against torture in Uzbek prisons in 2014.

An Amnesty International delegation will be in Uzbekistan this week in what the human rights watchdog describes as the first such visit to the country in 14 years.

A May 22 statement said that Marie Struthers, director of Amnesty's Eastern Europe and Central Asia regional office, and her deputy Denis Krivosheyev are traveling to Uzbekistan at short notice on May 22-25.

The two are scheduled to meet with government officials and civil society representatives, the statement said.

Struthers said the watchdog had prepared a list of recommendations for officials in Tashkent. The list includes establishing "mechanisms for the rehabilitation of all those prosecuted on politically motivated charges" and "impartial and effective investigations of previous human rights abuses."

The last visit by an Amnesty International delegation to Uzbekistan took place in 2004, when delegates of the group attended an international conference on the abolition of the death penalty.

In September 2017, a Human Rights Watch delegation visited Uzbekistan, seven years after its representatives were banned from working inside the country.

Both international organizations have been denied permission to open representative offices in Uzbekistan.

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev has taken steps to implement reforms at home and improve ties with the outside world following more than a quarter-century of iron-fisted rule under his predecessor, Islam Karimov.

Prime minister for 13 years, Mirziyoev became interim president after Karimov's death was announced in September 2016. He was then elected president in a tightly controlled vote in December 2016.

In recent months, Mirziyoev has made changes in Uzbekistan's long-feared security services, while several activists and journalists have been freed after years in prison.

"While some positive steps taken by the authorities over the last 18 months are encouraging, especially the prohibition of the use of torture to force confessions, much remains to be done to fully address the grave human rights violations of the past," Struthers said.

Isa Kalantari said that those detained should be released "soon."

An Iranian government panel has concluded there is no evidence against environmental activists rounded up on spying charges in recent months, the country's environment chief says.

Isa Kalantari, head of Iran's department of environment, was quoted by state media as saying on May 22 that the conclusion had been reached by a panel set up to investigate the allegations against the activists.

The panel included the ministers of justice, interior, and intelligence, as well as the president's legal deputy, Kalantari said.

"This four-member group has come to the conclusion that these detained individuals are in custody without having done anything and naturally they must be freed soon," Kalantari said.

Iran detained several environmentalists and wildlife activists earlier this year on espionage charges. The total number of those arrested is not clear.

Judiciary officials claimed that the activists were gathering sensitive information for foreign governments under the guise of scientific and environmental activities.

Among those detained was Iranian-Canadian environmental activist and sociology professor Kavous Seyed Emami, who died in prison under disputed circumstances.

The judiciary said the 63-year-old managing director of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, which works to protect endangered animals and raise public awareness about the environment, had committed suicide in prison.

The claim has been questioned by his family and acquaintances.

Kalantari's deputy at the department of environment, Kaveh Madani, fled the country last month amid pressure from hard-liners.

Madani said last year he had returned to Iran "to create hope" and pave the way for the return of other expatriates.

Based on reporting by ISNA and AFP

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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