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Kyrgyz Uzbek Activist Begins Appeal Against Life Sentence

Azimjan Askarov denies any role in the policeman's killing.
Azimjan Askarov denies any role in the policeman's killing.
The appeal hearing of ethnic Uzbek human rights defender Azimjan Askarov has begun in the southern Kyrgyz town of Tash-Kumyr, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports.

The appeal was initiated by Kyrgyz human rights activists who say Askarov was unfairly sentenced.

Askarov and seven other ethnic Uzbeks were found guilty by a court in the southern town of Nooken on September 15 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.

Askarov, who is a Kyrgyz citizen, insists he is innocent and had no part in the clashes or the killing. Human rights activists say they will do all they can to secure his release.

Askarov, six other ethnic Uzbeks convicted in the case, and several witnesses testified at the appeal trial on October 25. The judge said the trial would resume on November 3.

Jalal-Abad regional court Chairman Rysbek Shukuraliev told RFE/RL that Tash-Kumyr was selected as the venue for the appeals hearing for security reasons.

He said holding the hearing in Suzak, Jalal-Abad, or Bazar-Korgon -- where the deadly clashes took place in June -- would cause tensions, as the relatives of those killed in the clashes were "very aggressive."

Some ethnic Uzbek defendants and their lawyers have been beaten by relatives of the victims outside the courthouses, causing their trials to be postponed.

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