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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 May, 2004, 06:40 GMT 07:40 UK
US probes Uzbek torture allegations
By Monica Whitlock
BBC correspondent in Tashkent

A US pathology team has arrived in Uzbekistan to investigate allegations that Uzbek policemen tortured and killed a man in prison.

It is the latest in a series of deaths in custody, but it is the first time foreign specialists have been brought in on such a case.

It could prove a watershed, providing a direct, independent assessment for the first time.

Uzbekistan is an ally of the US, which keeps a military base in the country.

But there is growing awkwardness over Uzbekistan's bleak record on human rights.

If the US pathologists dispute the official version, it will raise doubts about all the other government inquiries into deaths in detention
An eminent US pathologist is leading the team - Michael Pollanen, a visiting professor for the chief medical examiner in Washington.

He has worked in Cambodia and East Timor, and his evidence will carry much weight.

He is to supervise the autopsy of the 36-year-old man, Andrei Shelkavenko, who died in a police station on the outskirts of Tashkent last week.

The police say he hanged himself in his cell. The lobby group Human Rights Watch, which saw the body, said there were open wounds to the head and neck and severe bruising to the groin.

Mr Shelkavenko's mother said she saw the police beating her son in the corridor before he died.

Mr Shelkavenko was arrested on suspicion of murder, not political charges, but the case has serious political resonance.

If the US pathologists dispute the official version, it will raise doubts about all the other government inquiries into deaths in detention, most famously that of a man who was allegedly immersed in boiling water.

The official report says he died after cell mates threw hot tea at him.

US ties

There is a US air base in Uzbekistan supporting troops in Afghanistan - and US aid to the country has increased greatly in recent years.

To continue to receive aid, however, Uzbekistan is supposed to show it is making progress on human rights.

The fact that it is co-operating with the visit at all will be seen as some progress, but much hinges of course on the pathology report itself. And that may not be as clear cut as many would like.

The body is already nine days old and has been kept in a morgue with faulty refrigeration in very hot weather.

The autopsy itself takes about a day, but tissue samples may have to be sent away for analysis and the whole process may take some time.


SEE ALSO:
Uzbek 'torture' mother freed
24 Feb 04  |  Asia-Pacific
Uzbek mother jailed for six years
12 Feb 04  |  Asia-Pacific
Bank reviews Uzbek rights record
05 Feb 04  |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Uzbekistan
01 Nov 03  |  Country profiles


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