A court in Uzbekistan has sentenced nine people for religious extremism, handing down prison terms ranging from six to 13 years.

The eight men and one woman were convicted in two separate trials in the Tashkent City Court. 

The accused all pleaded not guilty and their lawyer Rustam Tulaganov alleged that they had been tortured during interrogation.  He said the trials were unfair and that prosecutors had failed to prove his clients' guilt

Several dozen demonstrators, including relatives of those sentenced, protested outside the courtroom and demanded that the jailed be released.

Uzbekistan's autocratic government has long been criticized for human rights abuses and its crackdown on dissident Muslims following violence blamed on groups linked to al-Qaida. 

Uzbekistan is a key ally in the U.S. anti-terrorism campaign in the region.

Some information for this report provided by Reuters, AP, AFP.