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Jailed Belarusian rights activist Ales Byalyatski
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has called on the authorities in Belarus to begin a dialogue with the political opposition and "to unconditionally release all remaining prisoners who are serving sentences for exercising their fundamental human rights."

In a statement issued on April 20, the OHCHR welcomed the April 14-15 releases of political activists Andrey Sannikau and Dzmitry Bandarenka. The two were granted presidential pardons.

The OHCHR called for the immediate release of other jailed rights activists, including human rights defender Ales Byalyatski and opposition activist Syarhey Kavalenka.

On April 19, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka postponed an annual address to the nation and ordered officials to remove references to "excessively tough response measures" that could be taken in the face of heightened tensions with the European Union over his rights record.

With reporting by Reuters
Paramedics carry journalist Lukpan Akhmedyarov into a hospital after he was stabbed by unknown attackers in the northwestern city of Oral.
ORAL, Kazakhstan -- A correspondent for Kazakhstan's newspaper "Uralskaya nedelya" is in critical condition following a late-night armed assault by unknown attackers.

Lukpan Akhmedyarov was attacked on April 19 near the entrance to his apartment building in the western city of Oral.

Witnesses say there were as many as five assailants.

"Uralskaya nedelya" Editor In Chief Tamara Eslyamova told reporters that Akhmedyarov had been beaten and stabbed.

”He has got eight stab wounds on his back, and they [doctors] also say he got a blow on the back of his head," she said. "There is an open wound there."

Akhmedyarov has organized and spoken at numerous demonstrations and has been critical of the killing of at least 16 protesters by police in December 2011 in the town of Zhanaozen.

On March 7, he was stopped by police three times in one day. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has called on Kazakhstan to investigate the attack.

Eslyamova told RFE/RL that Akhmedyarov had to undergo surgery overnight.

According to Eslyamova, Akhmedyarov’s wife has been told by her employers that officers of the National Security Committee had visited the company and warned that “she might have problems if her husband would not stop organizing gatherings.”

An official at the Oral City Police Department, Quat Duisenghaliev, told RFE/RL that investigations are under way and that “two hooligans" were suspected of attacking the journalist. He declined to give further details.

Meanwhile, police spokeswoman Gulzhan Qanatova told RFE/RL that investigations have been officially launched into the "premeditated assault and attempted murder."

"Investigative and operative measures are being under way to resolve this crime," she said. "A group of the best investigators of the investigative directorate at the West Kazakhstan Oblast interior department has been created. The case is under the strict control of the Kazakh Interior Ministry's leadership.”

Elsewhere, a number of Kazakh journalists and activists held a press conference in Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty, on August 20, calling on Kazakh authorities to thoroughly investigate the attack.

Tamara Kaleeva, the head of Almaty-based Adil Soz (A Just Word) nongovernmental organization, claimed at the press conference that journalists in Kazakhstan are being assaulted on a regular basis.

"Our journalists are being attacked all the time," she said. "Every year we register more than 10, almost 20 assaults on journalists.”

International Condemnation

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has condemned the attack and called on Kazakh authorities to immediately investigate the incident and bring the perpetrators to justice.

CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney said in a statement that the near-fatal attack on Akhmedyarov "shows just how dangerous it is to be an independent investigative journalist in Kazakhstan."

The Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE) also condemned the attack which it described as "shocking." OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatovic said in a statement it was of "crucial importance" to determine whether the attack was connected to Akhmedyarov's journalistic work.

Akhmedyarov has been targeted for his reporting in the past. By late 2009, at least three defamation lawsuits had been filed by Kazakh authorities against the journalist in relation to his critical reporting.

With reporting by Interfax

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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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