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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Uzbek court jails two for Islamist extremism

TASHKENT, Dec 20 (Reuters) - An Uzbek court has jailed two men for Islamist extremism, their supporters said on Wednesday, calling the trial unfair.

The court sentenced Shoakmal Nosirov and Farkhod Muminov to nine and almost seven years in jail respectively for belonging to the Wahhabi religious movement banned in Uzbekistan, the IGNPU rights group said in a statement.

Uzbek leader Islam Karimov has been criticised by opponents for using the perceived threat of Islamist militancy to crack down on dissent in his mainly Muslim Central Asian nation.

"According to those who attended the trial, the court failed to prove their guilt," the statement said. "The trial was carried out with violations of Uzbekistan's criminal laws."

The Tashkent court was not available for comment.

Ex-Soviet Uzbekistan tolerates only a state-approved version of Islam. It has cracked down on groups that operate outside the system as part of what it calls a fight against Islamist guerrillas who seek to oust Karimov and set up a caliphate.

IGNPU said the two were arrested shortly after they organised a trip for 50 children to a resort where they held a competition based the children's knowledge of the Koran.

The U.S. State Department added Uzbekistan to its list of nations that violate religious freedom last month and blamed it for harsh treatment of Muslim dissidents and repression of Christians.
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