U.S. urges more tolerance in Uzbekistan's treatment of dissent

ALMATY (Reuters) - Uzbekistan’s detention of a human rights activist and the extension of another activists’ prison term drew criticism from the United States on Tuesday, although it welcomed the release of other dissidents and urged more tolerance.

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has overseen the release of several dissidents sentenced to lengthy prison terms under the late Islam Karimov, who was the Central Asian country’s leader for 27 years.

Among them were journalists Muhammad Bekjanov, who had spent 18 years behind bars, and Jamshid Karimov, Islam Karimov’s nephew who had been one of his fiercest critics.

“These positive steps seem to foreshadow future releases and a more tolerant approach to civil society in general,” the U.S. embassy in Uzbekistan said in a statement.

“So, we were disappointed to learn of setbacks with other activists, such as the recent detention of Elena Urlaeva and the decision to uphold Azam Farmonov’s sentence extension.”

Urlaeva, a campaigner against forced labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton fields, was arrested ahead of an international meeting where she was scheduled to give evidence on human rights violations, a human rights group said on last week.

In a video recording published online, Urlaeva said had been arrested, beaten by police and taken to a psychiatric clinic in Tashkent, the capital of the former Soviet republic.

Farmonov, another activist, has been in prison since 2006 on extortion charges and was sentenced in 2015 to five more years for violating prison rules, a ruling his lawyers have been trying to get overturned.

“We urge the government to reinforce its more positive trajectory on questions of the human dimension so that future actions align more closely with the country’s own laws and international standards,” the U.S. embassy said.

The Uzbek government has not commented on Urlaeva’s detention or the dismissal of Farmonov’s appeal.

Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Alexander Smith