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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pressure Mounts on Uzbekistan

APKarimov welcoming Boucher during their meeting this week in Tashkent.
TASHKENT, Uzbekistan -- Notching up Western pressure on Tashkent, the United States said it was "profoundly concerned" about the human rights situation in Uzbekistan, and the United Nations and European Union expressed dismay at the extradition of five refugees to the country.

"We obviously have very strong differences about the events in Andijan and human rights issues," Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher told reporters in Tashkent, referring to the May 2005 uprising that was violently put down by government forces.

U.S.-Uzbek relations soured after Uzbek President Islam Karimov denied an international probe into the Andijan violence and later evicted a U.S. military base on the Afghan border. In the past year, authorities have intensified a crackdown on opposition and rights groups, expelling media outlets and dozens of foreign-funded aid groups.

"There's been some continuing problems in our relationship," Boucher said after a meeting with Karimov on Wednesday. He declined to elaborate on the meeting.

Also Wednesday, Kyrgyz authorities agreed to extradite five Uzbek refugees who fled the country after the Andijan uprising.

The United Nation's High Commissioner for Refugees said Thursday that the move had placed the five Uzbeks at grave risk and was "an extremely serious violation" of the international refugee convention that bans the forcible return of refugees to their home countries.

"This grave breach is a huge disappointment, as the deportees lives may be at stake," UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said in the statement. "Kyrgyzstan has failed to protect these refugees."

The extradition was carried out "regardless of the fact that the UNHCR had already secured resettlement places in different countries for the four refugees," said a statement from Finland, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency.

It also urged Uzbekistan to fully respect rights of those extradited.

Kyrgyz courts had earlier ruled that the five failed to qualify for refugee status.

Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Alikbek Jekshenkulov said Thursday that the extradition was based on "irrefutable" evidence that the men had been involved in crimes.

Boucher met with Dzhekshenkulov on Thursday, and he struck a measured note after their talks.

"Certainly we want Kyrgyzstan to stand by its international obligations but we're still looking into the matter to determine the facts," he said on Thursday, without elaborating.

In other Uzbek developments, an Uzbek court has fined a group of Christian Protestants for purportedly proselytizing. The court in the central town of Yangiyul fined Andrei Shishkin, of the Pentecostal Christian Center, $400 for trying to disseminate Christian literature among Muslims and organizing a summer camp, where about 70 of his fellow parishioners studied the Bible, the court said in a statement posted Thursday on a government-run web site.

Also Thursday, Uzbek authorities announced the arrest od two Kazakh citizens who possessed extremist literature of a banned Islamic group.

The Uzbek Customs Committee said on a government-run web site that the two had been traveling on a train in western Uzbekistan and had books, magazines and leaflets propagating ideas of the banned radical group Hizb-ut-Tahrir.

The committee said they also had DVDs in Arabic, Uzbek and Kazakh that contained extremist propaganda.

Hizb-ut-Tahrir advocates the creation of a worldwide Islamic state, but claims to reject violence.