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EU Officials Pressed To Demand Release Of Jailed Kyrgyz Rights Defender Askarov

Azimjan Askarov appears in court in Bishkek in 2016.
Azimjan Askarov appears in court in Bishkek in 2016.

Eight international human rights organizations and media-freedom watchdogs have urged EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini and other EU officials to advocate for the immediate release of Kyrgyz human rights defender Azimjan (Azimjon) Askarov from prison.

In a letter sent to EU officials last month and made public on July 1, the groups expressed their "utmost and urgent concern" about the 68-year-old Askarov's "wrongful imprisonment" and the "deterioration of his health."

They urged the officials to "advocate with the Kyrgyz government for his immediate release and transfer to a safe third country for medical treatment."

The call comes ahead of an EU-Central Asia ministerial meeting in Kyrgyzstan's capital, Bishkek, on July 7.

"As the Kyrgyz government is looking to strengthen its ties with the European Union, it is important that authorities in Bishkek demonstrate their commitment to human rights and the rule of law by releasing the unfairly convicted and frail human rights defender," the eight organizations said in a statement.

The watchdogs included Amnesty International, Civil Rights Defenders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Front Line Defenders, Human Rights Watch, the International Federation for Human Rights, the International Partnership for Human Rights, and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.

Askarov, an ethnic Uzbek who has also contributed to independent news websites, is serving a life sentence after being convicted on what the statement called "trumped-up" charges.

He was convicted of "creating a threat to civil peace and stability in society" following ethnic clashes in southern Kyrgyzstan in 2010 in which more than 450 people, mostly ethnic Uzbeks, were killed.

Askarov has called the charges against him politically motivated. The case has drawn international criticism.

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