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International observers criticised the Sailau (Elections) electronic ballot system, which Kazakhstan is going to use in its upcoming parliamentary election on 19 September, the Russian Interfax news agency reported on Monday.

"There are many questions to the electronic ballot system Kazakhstan is introducing," said Pavel Lobachyov, a vice-president of Elections & Democracy (E&D), an international group established by several NGOs of the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) countries to monitor elections in East Europe and Central Asia.

"I was standing right in front of a computer when the electronic ballot system was tested and I saw that the connection was broken. The connection broke many times."

More than 1,000 international observers have been accredited to monitor the elections, the Interfax-Kazakhstan news agency reported on Thursday.

However, some reports note that despite rising doubts that Sunday's election will be free and fair, western investment of some US $25 billion - invested since 1991 mostly in the oil sector - could mean that international criticism would be muted, Reuters reported on Thursday.

"Whatever the Western reaction [to the election], it will be moderate in tone," said Vladimir Zharikhin, deputy head of the CIS Institute in Moscow. "For investors, it is more important to have stable rules than strict observance of democratic freedoms, if we are to be realists about this."

A religious prisoner had reportedly been tortured to death in Uzbekistan, the Dutch-based Erkinyurt web site reported on Saturday. Tohirjon Jabborov, 29, a resident of the eastern Namangan province's Kosonsoy District died in a Tashkent prison hospital on 7 September. Jabborov had been taken into custody by Namangan regional security service officers on 14 April.

The Namangan town court sentenced him to 16 years in prison for distributing illegal religious literature and leaflets, and membership with the banned Jamoat religious group.

According to the forensic experts, Tohirjon Jabborov died from an acute heart disease, cardiosclerosis, cirrhosis of the liver and a two-side bronchopneumonia.

However, Tohirjon Jabborov's younger brother, Khurshid, reportedly said that police officers had cordoned off their house and demanded that the dead man be buried immediately. "It seems that my brother suffered a lot. His body bore scratches and bruises. His head was fractured and his stomach was cut by a knife," Khurshid said.

The US State Department released its annual religious freedom report on Wednesday, in which it said that the Uzbek government continued to commit numerous serious abuses of religious freedom. The government permitted the operation of what it considers mainstream religions but invoked the Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations to restrict the religious freedom of other groups, the report said.

Earlier on Monday, the UN Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on torture, Theo van Boven, said that he continued to receive information on the execution of persons whose death sentences were allegedly based on confessions extracted under torture in Uzbekistan.

He strongly deplored that in a number of cases Tashkent disregarded requests by the United Nations Human Rights Committee to stay executions pending its consideration of the cases.

Since the publication of the Special Rapporteur's report of his visit to Uzbekistan in November-December 2002, at least nine death row prisoners have been executed despite requests by the Committee for a stay of execution pending its consideration of the cases relating to these persons. Most recently, Azizbek Karimov and Yusuf Zhumayev were reportedly executed on 10 August, despite interventions by the Committee.

In Tajikistan, local media reported on Monday that more than $200 million had been remitted by thousands of Tajik labour migrants working in Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and the Baltic states. The money was received by more than 160,000 people in Tajikistan over the first eight months of 2004.

Remittances by more than 600,000 Tajik labour migrants working abroad is a major source of income for their families in the impoverished Central Asian state, where more than 80 percent of the population lives below the national poverty line, according to the World Bank. Observers say that the amount of remittances is equal or even exceeds the country's annual budget.

More than 30 people with HIV/AIDS had been registered in the southern Kulob area, the Tajik Avesta news agency reported on Thursday. "Only a year has passed since the opening of the centre. Seven HIV-positive people were registered in the past three months, and another 26 people have been registered since January. The total number of HIV-positive people in the Kulob area is 33," the report said.

Meanwhile in Kyrgyzstan, the country's parliament approved on Monday amendments to the election code aimed at preventing voter fraud, the Interfax reported. Under the amendments, an election commission representative will mark the left thumb of a voter with a special substance when giving him or her voting papers. The mark will be verified before he or she votes. The municipal elections are scheduled for 10 October in Kyrgyzstan, with parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for 2005.

Going to Turkmenistan, the second volume of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov's book, which every citizen is obliged to read for moral guidance, was released on Sunday, the AP reported. The second volume of "Rukhnama," or "Book of the Soul", which focuses on family values and patriotism issues, was launched at a parliamentary ceremony attended by top government officials and foreign diplomats.

Schoolchildren are obliged to study "Rukhnama" at the start of every day and adults must read it and work on their spiritual and cultural development every Saturday.

Niyazov has led Turkmenistan since 1985, when it was still a part of the Soviet Union. He rules with an iron fist, and has created a vast personality cult, naming towns and streets after himself, erecting monuments in public squares and mounting his portraits on buildings. In 2002 he renamed the months of the year and September was called Rukhnama.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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