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Azimjan Askarov
BISHKEK -- A lawyer for jailed Kyrgyz human rights activist Azimjan Askarov says he plans to take his case to international courts after the Kyrgyz Supreme Court upheld his client's life sentence on December 20, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports.
Kairat Zagibaev told RFE/RL that the Supreme Court's decision on December 20 to uphold his conviction and life sentence "shows that the court had no will to remain independent and just."
The court ruled that the case against Askarov -- a Kyrgyz citizen of Uzbek origin -- was proven during the investigation and trial, which was held in southern Kyrgyzstan.
But the court did rule that the prison term of one of Askarov's co-defendants, Minura Mamadalieva, should be shortened from 20 years to 11 years.
Another Askarov lawyer, Nurbek Toktakunov, told RFE/RL on December 20 that the Supreme Court's decision was "unprincipled."
Kyrgyz human rights' organizations issued a joint statement today condemning the Supreme Court's ruling and calling for Askarov's case to be retried.
Askarov and seven other ethnic Uzbeks were found guilty in September 2010 by a court in the southern town of Nooken of organizing ethnic clashes in the Osh region in June of that year and of involvement in the murder of a policeman during the violence.
Askarov and four others were sentenced to life imprisonment, two people were given 20-year prison terms, and one was sentenced to nine years.
Askarov is the head of the local human rights group Vozdukh (Air), and his work for many years focused on prison conditions and police treatment of detainees.
He had reportedly been documenting the killings and arson attacks in southern Kyrgyzstan in June last year in which 400 people, most of them ethnic Uzbeks, were killed and hundreds more wounded.
Askarov says his case is politically motivated. He denies any involvement in the crimes he was convicted of.
The Prague-based NGO People in Need awarded its annual Homo Homini prize to Askarov in March, saying he had continued his rights activism in the face of threats, detention, imprisonment, and physical abuse.
The UN's special rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, said in Bishkek on December 13 that he hoped Askarov's case will be retried.

Read more in Kyrgyz here and here
Vaclav Havel (left) with a longtime Belarusian opposition leader, Ales Milinkevich (center), during a meeting in Prague.
PRAGUE -- In one of his last public messages before his death on December 18, longtime dissident writer and former Czech President Vaclav Havel expressed solidarity with political prisoners in Belarus.

In a message given to RFE/RL's Belarus Service ahead of the one-year anniversary of a disputed presidential vote and resulting protests in Minsk, Havel's message was addressed to jailed presidential candidates Andrey Sannikau and Mikalay Statkevich and other opposition figures imprisoned during the crackdown.

"I will continue to use any opportunity in the future, together with my friends, to draw the international community's attention to the violations of basic civic rights in Belarus," Havel said in the letter.

Havel frequently spoke out against the postelection crackdown in Belarus and was a long-standing proponent of human rights and greater political freedoms in that country.

"I wish you all the best and freedom for your country," said Havel, one of the most powerful moral authorities of his generation in the former Soviet bloc and around the world.

An outpouring of tributes to Havel have flowed in since news of his death, with a state funeral tentative planned for December 23.

Critics of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime were planning events aimed at circumventing official strictures on dissent as the anniversary of the election approached.

The year has seen roundups and raids, punitive measures against defense lawyers of government opponents, and lengthy prison sentences for leading anti-Lukashenka voices in Belarus.

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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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