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Amnesty: Life Sentence For Kyrgyzstan Rights Defender 'Triumph Of Injustice'

Azimjan Askarov in court in Bishkek in January 2017.
Azimjan Askarov in court in Bishkek in January 2017.

Amnesty International says a recent Kyrgyz court ruling to uphold the life sentence of imprisoned ethnic Uzbek human rights activist Azimjan Askarov is a "triumph of injustice."

The human rights watchdog renewed its call for Askarov's release in a July 31 statement, characterizing the 68-year-old as a "prisoner of conscience."

"We again observe the triumph of injustice in Kyrgyzstan. What prevented [Kyrgyz] authorities from fulfilling their obligations under international law and the country's constitution regarding the prisoner of conscience Azimjan Askarov? The short answer to this question is [the authorities'] total disregard for human rights," Denis Krivosheev, the deputy director of Amnesty’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia office, said in the statement.

Askarov was convicted of creating a mass disturbance and involvement in the murder of a police officer during deadly interethnic clashes between local Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in June 2010 when more than 450 people, mainly Uzbeks, were killed and tens of thousands more were displaced.

Askarov has insisted that his case is politically motivated.

On July 30, a court in Kyrgyzstan's northern Chui region ruled that Askarov's life sentence cannot be changed.

The hearing was held due to the mitigation of many articles of the Central Asian nation's criminal code that came into force on January 1.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists also condemned the Chui regional court's ruling and has called on Bishkek "to immediately release Askarov, who never committed a crime."

Rights groups, including the UN Human Rights Committee, have urged Kyrgyzstan to release Askarov, saying that he had been arbitrarily detained, tortured, and denied his right to a fair trial.

In July 2016, the Kyrgyz Supreme Court voided Askarov's conviction and sent the case back to a lower court for review in light of "new circumstances that appeared in the case."

However, in January 2017, a court in Bishkek reinstated a life sentence for Askarov after again finding him guilty of stirring up ethnic hatred and involvement in a police officer's murder.

In June, eight international human rights organizations and media freedom watchdogs urged EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini and other EU officials to call for Askarov's immediate release from prison.

Askarov's lawyers have said the activist's health has deteriorated "significantly" during the nine years he has so far served in prison.

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