BISHKEK -- The Kyrgyz Supreme Court has postponed until December 20 hearings into a local Uzbek human rights defender's appeal against his life prison term, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports.
Azimjan Askarov and seven other ethnic Uzbeks were found guilty in September 2010 by a court in the southern town of Nooken of organizing ethnic clashes and of involvement in the murder of a policeman during deadly ethnic confrontations that broke out in the south of the country in June of that year.
Askarov and four others were sentenced to life imprisonment, two were given 20 year prison terms, and one was sentenced to nine years.
Several dozen of the victims' relatives and their supporters blocked the Bishkek-Osh highway
for several hours on November 28, demanding Askarov's verdict should not be changed.
They told RFE/RL on November 29 that the decision to postpone the hearings was intended to drag out the appeal process. They warned that if Askarov's sentence is changed they will hold a series of mass protests.
Askarov's lawyer, Nurbek Toktakunov, told RFE/RL that the Supreme Court did not inform all the lawyers in good time about the hearings, and some of them failed to show up in court.
Askarov is the head of the local human rights group Vozdukh (Air), and his work over many years has focused on prison conditions and police treatment of detainees.
He had reportedly been documenting the killings and arson attacks in southern Kyrgyzstan in June last year in which 400 people, most of them Uzbeks, were killed and hundreds more wounded.
Askarov says his case is politically motivated. He denies any involvement in the crimes he has been convicted of.
The Prague-based NGO People in Need awarded its annual Homo Homini prize
to Askarov in March, saying he had continued his rights activism in the face of threats, detention, imprisonment, and physical abuse.
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