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Prisoner killed self, probe finds

Ruling supports Uzbek officials

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan -- A prisoner whose death in Uzbek police custody sparked a high-level investigation hanged himself and had no signs on his body of serious torture, international specialists said yesterday.

Andrei Shelkovenko, 36, died May 19 in a holding cell at a police station in his hometown Gazalkent, 40 miles northeast of the capital, Tashkent. Authorities have maintained that he hanged himself, but the family and international human rights groups called for an independent investigation, saying marks on the body showed torture may have been involved.

Uzbekistan, long criticized for human rights abuses and condemned for "systematic" torture in its prisons by a UN report, took the extraordinary steps last week of convening a special panel to investigate Shelkovenko's death and allowing international specialists to look on.

Dr. Michael Pollanen, a forensic pathologist for the province of Ontario, Canada, who observed a second autopsy on the body Thursday, said earlier alleged injuries "were related to understandable misinterpretations of changes that occur in all bodies after death."

Examinations of Shelkovenko's neck showed "findings compatible with hanging and did not reveal evidence of strangulation," said Pollanen.

The body had no other signs of major injury to internal organs or back muscles, Pollanen said, meaning no other serious torture could have occurred since Shelkovenko's April 23 arrest on suspicion of a robbery that resulted in murder.

Three other inmates were with Shelkovenko in his cell at the time of his early-morning death. Another specialist, James Gannon of the Morristown, N.Y., prosecutor's office, said interviews with those witnesses were consistent with the hanging account, and there were no indications he was hanged by another person.

However, Shelkovenko's family still believes there was foul play. "I don't believe my son could commit suicide because he loved to live too much," said Lyudmila Bochkaryova, Shelkovenko's mother. She questioned how he could have hanged himself with the others around and when detainees are banned from having materials that could be used for hanging.

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