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Jailed Kyrgyz Rights Activist Rethinking Hunger Strike

Azimjan Askarov in prison in Bishkek
BISHKEK -- Jailed Kyrgyz human rights activist Azimjan Askarov says he is reconsidering his plan to hold a hunger strike to protest his life sentence for organizing ethnic clashes and involvement in the killing of a policeman, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports.
Askarov told RFE/RL in an interview in his Bishkek prison on December 28 that he is unsure of following through on his threat to go on hunger strike on January 10 if Kyrgyz officials do not intervene in his case. A lawyer of Askarov had said he opposed the idea of a hunger strike because he thought it would hurt Askarov's next appeal attempt.
Askarov, an ethnic Uzbek, was sentenced last year to life in jail for his part in deadly ethnic clashes in southern Kyrgyzstan in June 2010 that led to some 400 people being killed. He was also found guilty of involvement in the murder of a policeman during the unrest. Seven others were sentenced with him on the same charges.
The Supreme Court upheld that conviction on December 20. United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay expressed "regret" with the court's ruling.
Askarov is the head of the human rights group Vozdukh (Air), and for many years he worked on prison conditions and the police treatment of detainees.
Askarov says his case is politically motivated. He denies any involvement in the crimes he has been convicted of.
Kyrgyz Ombudsman Tursunbek Akun also met with Askarov in prison on December 28. Akun said he is establishing an international committee that will work to have Askarov's conviction and sentence overturned.
"I came here [to prison] today to get permission from Askarov [to start that process and establish the committee]," Akun said.
Askarov, 61, told RFE/RL that the prison doctors are "good" and if they don't have a medicine that he needs they tell him to ask visitors to bring them. Askarov showed RFE/RL a bag of vitamins and medicine that had been brought to him by friends and relatives.
Askarov said he has had three visits by his family members with the help of National League activist Sardar Bagyshbekov and human rights activist Tolekan Ismailova. "Twice I had long [overnight] visits of three and two days, and another of four hours" with friends and relatives.
Askarov said he walks about seven kilometers each day in the prison courtyard.
"While I walk, I read and memorize things," he said. "I don't have access to the Internet but, as you see, I have a television and radio. I listen to all [international] radio programs -- RFE/RL, the BBC, the Voice of America -- there's not a single day that I don't listen. I also get many friends buy them at the newsstand here [at the prison]. I am very well equipped with information."
Askarov's lawyers have said they will take their client's case to an international court if they exhaust all appeal possibilities in Kyrgyzstan.