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U.S. 'Concerned' About Fairness Of Kyrgyz Murder Appeal

Ethnic Uzbek human rights activist Azimjan Askarov
BISHKEK -- The U.S. Embassy in Bishkek says it is concerned about the fairness of an appeal hearing in a murder case related to last year's ethnic violence in the south, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports.

The Supreme Court on January 26 began hearing the appeal of Azimjan Askarov, a well-known human rights defender, and seven other ethnic Uzbeks convicted of murdering a police officer during the clashes in June.

Askarov and four others received life sentences, two were given 20-year prison terms, and one was sentenced to nine years in a case that has been criticized by rights groups in Kyrgyzstan and abroad.

In a statement today, the U.S. Embassy said it was encouraged by the court’s decision to allow the inclusion of previously disallowed documents on behalf of the defense.

But it also said it was "troubled" by some of the court's reported actions, saying the court's refusal to allow Askarov and other defendants to attend the hearing and make their own statements "could call into question the impartiality of the hearing."

Hearing Could Send Message

The embassy urged the court to exercise impartiality, saying a fair, impartial hearing "will send a solid message to the world that Kyrgyzstan is clearly on the path to becoming the free and democratic society its citizens desire."

The international campaign group Human Rights Watch said last week the case against the eight has been a "miscarriage of justice from the very beginning" and urged the Supreme Court to order a retrial and probe into allegations of torture.

Clashes between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz last June in Osh and the nearby Jalal-Abad regions left more than 400 people dead.

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