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Jailed Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Belarusian Rights Defenders Get 'Courage' Awards


Kazakhstan's Sergei Duvanov, an independent journalist and one of the three "Courage" award winners

Kazakhstan's Sergei Duvanov, an independent journalist and one of the three "Courage" award winners

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Jailed Belarusian, Kazakh, and Kyrgyz human rights defenders have been awarded at the One World-Kyrgyzstan international film festival held in Bishkek, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports.

Almaty-based Kazakh journalist Sergei Duvanov, who chairs the Committee for the Release of Yevgeny Zhovtis, told RFE/RL on October 10 the recipients of the "For Courage in the Fight For Freedom" award include Zhovtis of Kazakhstan, Ales Byalyatski of Belarus, and Azimjan Askarov of Kyrgyzstan.

Zhovtis, head of the Almaty-based Kazakh Bureau for Human Rights, was sentenced in September 2009 to four years in a labor camp for allegedly killing a pedestrian in a car accident. An initial police investigation that found him not responsible for the accident was later overturned.

Zhovtis's supporters say the authorities used the case to punish him for his human rights activities.

Byalyatski, the chairman of the Vyasna (Spring) human rights center in Belarus, was arrested on August 4 and later charged with tax evasion in a case that drew widespread international condemnation.

Vyasna had circulated reports about the Belarusian authorities' crackdown on peaceful protests. He and his colleagues say the case against him is politically motivated. If found guilty, Byalyatski faces up to seven years in jail.

Askarov, an ethnic Uzbek rights activist from the southern Kyrgyz Osh region, is serving a life sentence after being found guilty of organizing ethnic clashes between local Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in June 2010 and of involvement in the murder of a policeman during the violence in southern Kyrgyzstan.

Human rights groups in Kyrgyzstan and abroad have criticized Askarov's trial and sentence.

In March, the Czech nongovernmental organization People In Need designated Askarov the recipient of its annual Homo Homini prize, awarded "for dedication to the promotion of human rights, democracy, and nonviolent solutions to political conflicts."

Askarov told RFE/RL in March this year that he was jailed because of his activities as a rights activist, which focused on poor prison conditions and police treatment of detainees.

The One World international film festival -- which originated in Prague -- was held in Kyrgyzstan from September 27 to October 2.

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