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Former Kazakh banker and exiled opposition leader Mukhtar Ablyazov (file photo)

France has granted political asylum to Kazakhstan's exiled opposition leader Mukhtar Ablyazov, according to his lawyer and a French newspaper.

The French daily Le Monde reported on October 5 that France’s National Court of Asylum Issues, the CDNA, had granted asylum to the fugitive former banker.

In its ruling, dated September 29, the court deplored direct pressure from Kazakhstan and "the obvious attempts by outside agents to exert influence on the asylum authorities," according to the report.

Le Monde said the court had reviewed for several months Ablyazov's appeal against an earlier decision by the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons to reject Ablyazov’s asylum request.

His lawyer, Bota Jardemalie, wrote on Facebook on October 4 that the CDNA’s decision was made "despite the most massive political pressure by Kazakhstan on the leadership of France, international lobbying organized by [Kazakhstan's] regime, its dirty PR, fabricated accusations, manipulations and direct pressure on the French justice [system]."

Ablyazov has been a vocal critic of Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev and his predecessor, Nursultan Nazarbaev.

In recent years, he has been organizing and coordinating the activities of his Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan movement and protest rallies in Kazakhstan's capital, Nur-Sultan, and other towns and cities via the Internet.

Ablyazov, a former head of Kazakhstan's BTA bank, who has been residing in Europe for more than a decade, is wanted by Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine on suspicion of embezzling some $5 billion.

In November 2018, a court in Kazakhstan sentenced Ablyazov in absentia to life in prison after finding him guilty of organizing the 2004 murder of Erzhan Tatishev, the head TuranAlem bank, which was later renamed BTA.

In a separate in-absentia trial in Kazakhstan that ended in 2017, Ablyazov was convicted of embezzlement, abuse of office, and organizing a criminal group and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Ablyazov denies all the charges, saying they are politically motivated.

Russian blogger Yegor Zhukov in court on October 5.

A court in Moscow has refused to extend the probation period for Yegor Zhukov, a prominent Russian blogger and activist known for his open criticism of the government.

Zhukov's lawyer, Leonid Solovyov, said on October 5 that the Kuntsevo district court had rejected the Federal Penitentiary Service's (FSIN) motion to prolong the probation period.

The FSIN directorate in Moscow last week filed the motion saying that Zhukov had failed to show up at a police station to report to a parole officer for one month, which is considered to be a violation of the probation period the blogger was given along with a three-year suspended sentence in December.

The charges against the 22-year-old activist were related to four videos he posted on his YouTube channel in October and December 2017 that included clips of demonstrations and commentaries by the blogger on the protest movement and Russian politics.

Zhukov was arrested in August last year amid protests in Moscow demanding free and fair municipal elections. Dozens of people have been fined or given jail sentences over the rallies.

In his final court appearance on December 4 before his sentencing the next day, Zhukov made a statement harshly criticizing Russia's current political system for creating economic inequality for its citizens.

Zhukov's statement resonated across the country.

In late August, Zhukov was severely beaten by unknown assailants. He and his supporters say the attack was politically motivated.

Based on reporting by TASS and 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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