GENEVA (Reuters) - Torture is rife in prisons and police stations in Uzbekistan, where activists are rounded up and routinely mistreated in a crackdown on dissent, the U.N. torture watchdog said on Friday.
It cited "numerous, ongoing and consistent allegations" that detainees in the ex-Soviet state were tortured, including by beatings, rape and sexual violence, to extract confessions.
Some alleged abuses had resulted in deaths in custody, the U.N. Committee against Torture said.
"Indeed when it comes to practicising torture, Uzbekistan represents one of countries where torture occurs systematically, and sometimes in the worst forms," George Tugushi, an expert from Georgia on the committee, told a news briefing.
The panel of 10 independent experts called on Uzbekistan to carry out prompt, impartial and effective investigations into all allegations of torture and punish those responsible.
President Islam Karimov's government should report back within a year on its progress in wiping out torture and arbitrary imprisonment of human rights defenders and journalists imprisoned for their work, it said.
"What we've seen has been a crackdown across the board. Not just punishment of people and continuing use of torture, but actually punishment of those who even report about torture to committees like our own," said Felice Gaer, an American expert who serves as its vice chairwoman.
In 2007, when it last examined Uzbekistan's record, a group of non-governmental organizations had attended, she said.
"They were largely Uzbek. They lined the room, they brought us documentation, they brought us cases.
"When we reviewed Uzbekistan (this time), we didn't have a single Uzbek NGO present. And in fact, this was because some of these people had been imprisoned," she added, mentioning Azam Formonov, Gaibullo Jalilov, Dilmurod Saidov from a long list.
There were also substantiated reports that Uzbek women who had given birth to two or more children, particularly in rural areas, had been "subjected to sterilization procedures without informed consent", according to the U.N. watchdog.
Karimov brooks no dissent and has ruled his mainly Muslim Central Asian nation of 30 million for more than two decades.
However, Akmal Saidov, chairman of the National Human Rights Centre of Uzbekistan who led its delegation, said numerous torture complaints cited by the U.N. watchdog were "unfounded".
He accused the committee of being corrupted by information provided by certain "politically biased" NGOs.
Amnesty International accused Russia, Ukraine and the five Central Asian states, including Uzbekistan, in July of colluding in abductions and unlawful transfers of asylum-seekers and refugees back to Central Asia where they risked torture. Russian and Uzbek officials were not available for comment at that time.
Referring to Uzbekistan, the committee voiced concern at "allegations that some individuals extradited from neighboring countries have been subjected to torture and others detained incommunicado".
The U.N. experts said the International Committee of the Red Cross had halted its prison visits in Uzbekistan in April, leaving an absence of external monitoring. They voiced concern at conditions at Jaslyk detention facility in the north, which some activist groups have named "The House of Torture".
The ICRC, an independent aid agency, had said its terms were not respected, including being able to speak to detainees in private about conditions of detention.
Additional reporting by Steve Gutterman in Moscow; Editing by Alistair Lyon