A court in the central Asian republic of Uzbekistan sentenced eight members of a hardline Islamist group to prison sentences of eight to 19 years for sedition Monday.
The eight men were convicted of organizing a criminal and extremist religious organization and spreading religious, anti-governmental literature among young people to encourage them to overthrow the regime and to set up an Islamic state.
The court had earlier rejected the defendants' claims that they had made their confessions after being tortured and beaten in a basement cell in the Tashkent interior ministry.
Abdulvakhid Yuldashev, who the court found to be the leader of the pro-Wahhabite group, was sentenced to 19 years in a high security prison for attempting to overthrow the constitutional government and creating a criminal group.
Shukhrat Tadzhibayev was handed an 18-year prison sentence in a high security jail for being the treasurer of a puritanical Islamic group, while six other men received terms of from eight to 10 years in prison.
Five other defendants who were convicted of failing to inform the authorities about a crime were freed after sentencing under a presidential amnesty from September last year.
Yuldashev described in February how police beat him about the head and burned his sexual organs in order to get him to confess.
Lawyer Tatyana Davidov said the bruises and scars from the beatings were still visible on some of the accused.
She said the court had failed to prove the guilt of the defendants.
"The court was led by the materials from the investigation when bringing in its verdict and the speeches of lawyers and testimonies of the accused were not taken into account," she said.
Human rights groups claim that over the past few years the Uzbek authorities have tried some 4,000 people on charges of religious extremism and attemtping to overthrow the government after arbitrary crackdowns, particularly following a series of bomb blasts in Tashkent in 1999, blamed on extremists.
Amnesty International believes the government is using the bombings as a pretext to clamp down on their perceived opponents and said it regularly receives reports that suspected members of independent Islamic groups have been tortured or ill-treated.
"Hundreds of these so-called "Wahhabis" have been sentenced to long terms of imprisonment after unfair trials," the London-based organizations said -- TASHKENT (AFP)
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