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Uzbekistan Accused of Widespread Torture - 2002-12-06

A senior U.N. official visiting the Central Asian country of Uzbekistan has accused the Uzbek government of widespread torture.

The top United Nations official on torture, Theo van Boven, said Friday during a trip to Uzbekistan that the government regularly uses torture against political opponents.

Mr. Van Boven is wrapping up a two-week visit to Uzbekistan during which he talked with dozens of people who said they had been tortured by the police or the secret services.

During a press conference Friday, Mr. Van Boven said torture is "not just incidental but has a nature of being systemic in this country."

He said the police often use torture to extract confessions that are later used to convict people and sentence them to death.

Human rights officials have long accused the Uzbek President Islam Karimov of using force to crack down on political dissent and religious freedom in the country. They say devout Muslims are singled out for harassment, arrest and torture by the police.

The Uzbek government fears the country may become a center of religious extremism like their neighbor to the south in Afghanistan.

Uzbekistan became a strong U.S. ally in the war against terrorism after the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington. U.S. troops have been stationed in southern Uzbekistan since last year as part of the U.S. military effort in Afghanistan.