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Supporters Greet Esergepov As He Leaves Prison
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A journalist whose independent newspaper was shuttered after his arrest and conviction for revealing state secrets in an article alleging links between a businessman and the country's national security apparatus has left jail after serving a three-year sentence that he and rights groups say was politically motivated, according to RFE/RL's Kazakh Service.

Ramazan Esergepov, who founded and edited the weekly newspaper "Alma-Ata Info," was ordered to spend three years in jail in August 2009 over the article in question, called "Who Rules the Country: the President or the Kazakh National Security Committee?"

His conviction met with protests and condemnation from Freedom House and other local and international rights groups.

Supporters had gathered outside the prison in anticipation of his January 6 release and used the event to publicize the names of other jailed Kazakh journalists.

Esergepov has insisted all along that his conviction was politically motivated and vowed to campaign hard for human rights after his release.

Esergepov received Human Rights Watch's 2011 Hellman-Hammett Grant, which is awarded to writers and journalists who have been the victims of political persecution and are in financial need.

In 2009, Freedom House described Esergepov as "the latest target of an escalating government crackdown on independent media in Kazakhstan."
Sahar Gul, who is being treated in a Kabul hospital, is seen on January 5.
When we last left her, Sahar Gul was in dire straits.

The 15-year-old Afghan newlywed, who was allegedly tortured by her husband and in-laws and kept in a basement for several months, was near death when she was rescued about two weeks ago.

Now her doctors, who spoke to RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan, say Gul's condition has improved a bit and that there's no need to send her to India for treatment, as Afghan officials had planned.

Ghamaredin Hafez, the head of the Kabul hospital where Gul is being treated, said, "She was in such critical condition when she was brought here that she wasn’t expected to survive, but as you see, [she’s getting better].”

He added that it will take significantly more time before Gul’s psychological wounds are healed.

“She’s been psychologically deeply harmed. What she needs is a secure atmosphere and absolute rest,” said Hafez.

RFA correspondents who met with Gul report that the wounds and bruises covering her body are beginning to heal and that she can now open her left eye -- previously swollen shut as a result of the beating she said she was subjected to.

While very weak and barely able to speak, she told RFA that the Afghan government should punish those who tortured her.

Gul, speaking to Radio Free Afghanistan
Gul, speaking to Radio Free Afghanistan
“Put them in prison. That is all I want,” she said.

Gul previously said she was "tortured continuously, every three or four days," in the six months since being sold into marriage far from home with a man twice her age.

She has accused her husband's family of abusing her with pincers, pulling out her fingernails, and ripping out clumps of her hair.

According to officials in northeastern Baghlan Province, where Gul was held, she was also tortured with hot irons and her fingers were broken.

Some local residents say she was tortured after she refused her in-laws' demand that she become a prostitute.

Gul's plight has attracted domestic and international attention and has underlined concerns over the bleak situation for women in Afghanistan, where many are routinely subjected to abuse and discrimination.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has vowed to punish those responsible for Gul's ordeal.

Fazal Rahman, a police officer in Baghlan's second district, said on January 2 that the authorities had arrested Gul's mother-in-law and sister-in-law and were looking for her brother-in-law and father-in-law.

Afghan officials have directed the Defense Ministry to arrest Gul's husband, who is currently serving as a soldier in southern Helmand Province.

-- Golnaz Esfandiari, based on reporting by Radio Free Afghanistan

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