On May 13, Kyrgyzstan's Supreme Court is set to hold its final hearing in the appeal of ethnic Uzbek human rights activist Azimjan Askarov against his life sentence.
Askarov, who also contributed to independent news websites, has been behind bars for nearly 10 years on what human rights and media-freedom watchdogs described as trumped-up charges.
Askarov, who turns 69 this month, has insisted that his case is politically motivated.
Ahead of the Supreme Court hearing, human rights defenders reiterated their calls for the activist's release, saying his health has dramatically deteriorated.
Human Rights Watch said Askarov "suffers from cardiac and respiratory conditions and has not received appropriate medical attention in prison," and warned that the inmate was at high risk of contracting COVID-19, a disease that disproportionately affects older people and individuals with underlying illnesses.
"There is also one more compelling reason: It is the right and just thing to do," the New York-based watchdog added, saying Askarov was sentenced to life following "a deeply flawed trial and credible allegations of torture which were never investigated."
Prominent Kyrgyz rights activist Tolekan Ismailova said it was "heartbreaking to see him -- at high risk due to his declining health and having endured torture -- losing hope for a fair trial and release."
In 2010, a Kyrgyz court sentenced Askarov to life in prison after finding him guilty of creating a mass disturbance and involvement in the murder of a police officer during deadly ethnic clashes between local Uzbeks and Kyrgyz.
More than 450 people, mainly ethnic Uzbeks, were killed and tens of thousands more were displaced during the violence.
The UN Human Rights Committee has found that Askarov was arbitrarily detained, denied a fair trial, and tortured, and ruled the activist should be released immediately and his conviction quashed.
However, Askarov’s conviction was upheld after several appeals.