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Iranian activist Shadi Sadr
WASHINGTON -- Two Afghans and an Iranian are among this year's winners of the U.S. government's International Women of Courage Award.

Shukria Asil, an Afghan provincial council member, Shafiqa Quraishi of the Afghan Interior Ministry, and Iranian women's rights activist Shadi Sadr were among the 10 winners announced by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on March 1.

Shukria Asil
The award recognizes women who have shown "exceptional courage and leadership" in pushing for women's rights.

Sadr is a prominent rights activist and a lawyer who has campaigned to stop stoning as a punishment for women. She was among dozens of women arrested three years ago for protesting the trial of five other women activists. She was also detained in the midst of the unrest that erupted after last year's disputed presidential election, spending 11 days in detention before leaving Iran for Germany.

The State Department said in a biography for Asil that, as one of four female members of the Baghlan Provincial Council, she had faced threats of kidnapping and death in her fight for justice for women and girls. It cited her intervention in a case where a girl had been rejected by her family after being gang-raped. Asif managed to reconcile the family despite being discouraged by the provincial governor from doing so.

Colonel Shafiqa Quraishi is the director of gender, human, and child rights at the Ministry of the Interior. She has been working to improve female recruitment and promotion rates in the ministry and the police force.

Melanne Verveer, the State Department's ambassador at large for global women's issues, described the winners as "heroic individuals" who had "overcome personal adversity, threats, arrest, and assault to dedicate themselves to activism for human rights."

Clinton is to present the awards in Washington on March 10.
Kyrgyz human rights activist Nematillo Botakoziev has been reported missing in Dushanbe, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports.

Botakoziev, 42, has not been seen since February 26 when he was at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Dushanbe applying for refugee status.

Botakoziev had applied for UNHCR protection after reportedly being repeatedly harassed by police in the southern Kyrgyz town of Nookat since 2004.

He said he was being persecuted by the police because of issues related to his Uzbek wife, Mavlyuda Abdulazizova, who had been sentenced more than a decade ago in Uzbekistan on charges of attempting to overthrow the government.

She was pardoned in July 1999 and fled to Kyrgyzstan, where she met and married Botakoziev.

In September 2008, Nookat residents attacked the local administration building to protest an official refusal to allow a public celebration of the Muslim holiday of Eid. Botakoziev was accused of organizing the protest and a warrant was issued for his arrest. He fled to Tajikistan and denies any involvement in the protest.

Botakoziev was also an associate of Kyrgyz journalist Alisher Saipov, who was shot dead in the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh in 2007.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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