MOSCOW (AP) _ Authorities in Uzbekistan use censorship, imprisonment and beatings to quell dissent, a human rights group said Wednesday in two reports on the central Asian nation.

Helsinki Watch called the practices ''reminiscent of the Soviet past.''

Uzbek authorities weren't immediately available for comment. There was no answer at the press office of its mission in Moscow.

The Uzbek government has justified its methods by citing the ''need for political stability'' in the region.

Jeri Laber, executive director of the New York-based organization, said representatives were denied visas to travel to Uzbekistan to present the reports to government officials.

The government has banned some newspapers and blotted out sections of publications that were deemed anti-government, said Helsinki Watch spokeswoman Erika Dailey.

Uzbek President Islam Karimov, an old-style Communist who retained power after the Soviet collapse, has cracked down on the political opposition and human rights campaigners in the nation of nearly 20 million. He has said multi-party elections will be held next year.

Under Karimov, opposition figures have been detained without charge, beaten and had their homes set ablaze. In January, the activities of the main opposition movement, Unity, were suspended for three months.