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Activist Jailed For Life Over Kyrgyz Violence Loses Appeal

Human rights activist Azimjan Askarov in court on November 10
Human rights activist Azimjan Askarov in court on November 10
An ethnic Uzbek rights activist jailed for life in connection with June's deadly ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan has lost an appeal against his conviction, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports.

The Jalal-Abad regional court in southern Kyrgyzstan on November 10 upheld the verdict on Azimjan Askarov.

Askarov and seven other Uzbeks were found guilty on September 15 by a court in the southern town of Nooken of organizing ethnic clashes and of involvement in the murder of a policeman in the village of Bazar-Korgon.

Askarov and four others received life sentences, two were given 20-year prison terms, and one was sentenced to nine years.

Rights groups in Kyrgyzstan and abroad have raised concerns about Askarov's conviction.

Askarov, who is a Kyrgyz citizen, says he is innocent of the charges. His lawyers and human rights activists who initiated Askarov's appeal say they will continue to work to secure his release.

The director of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), Janez Lenarcic, today called for a full investigation of allegations of torture and said irregularities had to be addressed to ensure a fair trial for Askarov and the other defendants.

Lenarcic said ODIHR monitors at the original trial and appeal had noted that the authorities "failed to make adequate efforts" to tackle verbal abuse, including death threats, directed at the lawyers and the defendant.

"It is commendable that the authorities stepped up security for the appeal hearings, but we remain concerned about reports of torture and procedural irregularities and an atmosphere of intimidation in and around the courtroom that challenged the ability of the defense to make its case," Lenarcic said.

The authorities have denied claims that Askarov has been mistreated in custody.

Meanwhile, Daniil Kislov, the editor of the website who attended Askarov's appeal hearing, described the activist as frail-looking.

Kislov told RFE/RL that Askarov "looked horrible. When he was standing at the trial to answer or ask questions, he had to hold the bars of the cage he was in so as not to fall down. He has lost about 20 kilograms. And he is not a young man."

The town of Tash-Kumyr in Jalal-Abad region was selected as the venue for the appeals hearing for security reasons. The trials of some Uzbek defendants have been postponed after they and their lawyers were assaulted and beaten outside the courthouses by relatives of the victims.

More than 400 people died in violent clashes between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in mid-June in the southern regions of Osh and Jalal-Abad.