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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 June, 2005, 15:38 GMT 16:38 UK
Dead Syrian cleric 'was tortured'
Sheikh Muhammad al-Khaznawi (Credit: www.amude.com)
Sheikh Khaznawi's body was found three weeks after he vanished
Amnesty International has called for an investigation into the death of a prominent Kurdish cleric in Syria, claiming he was tortured to death.

The human rights group says Sheikh Muhammad al-Khaznawi was detained by Syrian military intelligence at an unknown location and died on 30 May.

He was found dead in eastern Syria three weeks after he went missing in the capital, Damascus.

His body was handed over to his family by the authorities on 1 June.

The sheikh's body was taken back to Qameshli, the town where he practised as an imam, in the predominantly Kurdish north-eastern area of Syria, to be buried on Wednesday evening, Amnesty says.

Amnesty says the 48-year-old sheikh is at least the sixth Syrian Kurd to have died as a result of torture and ill-treatment in custody since March 2004.

On Wednesday, his sons who were called to a hospital in Deir al-Zour to identify their father's body said there were signs on his body that he had been tortured.

But the Syrian government says the murder was purely criminal and denies Sheikh Khaznawi had been arrested by a security body.

Correspondents say the sheikh was widely popular in Syria, and was known for teaching tolerance and the compatibility of Islam and democracy.

Thousands of Kurds have been holding regular demonstrations to demand information from the authorities about the sheikh since his disappearance.

Syrian Kurds - who make up about 10% of the country's 17 million people - complain of discrimination and demand the right to speak their language.

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