By Maria Danilova

Moscow - Russian law enforcement agencies have tortured three former Guantanamo inmates and subjected them and four others to continual harassment and abuse, a US-based rights group said in a report on Thursday.

Human Rights Watch also urged the United States to do more to protect the rights of terrorism suspects subject to extradition, saying it should not transfer people to countries where they may be tortured.

The interior ministry declined to comment on the accusations. The Federal Security Service declined immediate comment.

Allison Gill, Moscow director for the rights group, said three of seven men who were released from the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay in 2004, have been severely beaten and tortured. All have suffered from detention and other forms of hounding by the authorities, especially on the part of the interior ministry and the Federal Security Service, the KGB's main successor agency, she said.

"They have all been subjected to serious harassment," she said. The report also said four have been forced into hiding.

One of the former detainees, Rasul Kudayev, has been held in custody in the North Caucasus city of Nalchik on charges of participating in the October 2005 attack by hundreds of militants on police and other government buildings. Kudayev's lawyers and relatives say he was severely beaten while in custody to extract confessions and a regional court has ordered prosecutors to probe those allegations.

"They tortured him in all ways, the beat him day and night in the course of one month," Kudayev's mother Fatima Tekayeva told said in a phone interview. "I saw traces of the beatings on his body with my own eyes."

Two other former inmates, Ravil Gumarov and Timur Ishmuratov, were sentenced to 13 and 11 years, respectively, in 2006 for blowing up a natural gas pipeline after having been acquitted in a prior trial.

Human Rights Watch said the trial was unfair and that the two men were beaten in custody until they confessed. Gumarov was deprived of sleep for about one week and kept in a small cage, his hands handcuffed over his head, the group said.

Four others - Rustam Akhmyarov, Shamil Khazhiyev, Ruslan Odizhev and Airat Vakhitov - are in hiding, according to activists.

Reached by telephone, Vakhitov declined to disclose his location, saying only he was "in my motherland".

"I am the only one who hasn't had a case fabricated against him and who is walking around alive and free," Vakhitov said. "I don't feel safe in this country."

The seven were detained by US forces in Afghanistan on suspicion of fighting for the Taliban regime. They were released from the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2004, and some were briefly jailed upon returning to Russia before being released after investigators said they found no evidence of Taliban involvement.

The seven are among roughly 360 men released since the US detention centre opened in January 2002.

An investigation published in December that tracked 245 of those formerly held at Guantanamo over 17 countries found, among other things, that most were either freed without being charged or were cleared of charges related to their detention at the US facility.

Rights activists said the treatment of former Guantanamo detainees was part of a broader pattern of by Russian authorities which, they say, target pious Muslims with concocted criminal investigations or illegal coercion.

"Cases are being fabricated, confessions are being extracted by means of torture or by planting weapons," said Oleg Orlov, head of the respected Memorial Human Rights Centre.

In its report, Human Rights Watch again urged the United States to stop relying on diplomatic assurances of fair treatment by governments when extraditing terrorism suspects and to not transfer people to countries where they may face torture.

"The US government has triply wronged these men: first, by detaining them without due process; second, by returning them to Russia in violation of international law; and third, by failing to follow and protest their mistreatment by Russian authorities," the report said.

The United States has said it does not systematically track what happens to detainees once they leave Guantanamo, but has said it seeks assurances that detainees will be treated humanely by their home countries. - Sapa-AP