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Kyrgyz Protesters Demand Uzbek Rights Defender Serve Sentence

Jailed ethnic Uzbek rights activist Azimjan Askarov
Jailed ethnic Uzbek rights activist Azimjan Askarov
BAZAR-KORGON, Kyrgyzstan -- Dozens of protesters have held a rally in southern Kyrgyzstan today to demand that a prominent Uzbek rights activist remain in jail, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports.

The protesters blocked the Bishkek-Osh highway for several hours on November 28, saying that Azimjan Askarov's verdict should not be changed.

The protesters later left the highway after Jalal-Abad Oblast Deputy Governor Kadyrbek Jakypov met with them, RFE/RL reported.

Askarov is serving a life sentence after being convicted in September last year of organizing ethnic clashes and of involvement in the murder of a policeman during the violence in southern Kyrgyzstan in June 2010 in which more than 400 people were killed and hundreds wounded.

Human rights groups in Kyrgyzstan and abroad have criticized the trial and long sentence.

Kyrgyz Supreme Court spokesman Baktybek Rysaliev told RFE/RL that the court is scheduled to resume hearings into Askarov's appeal on November 29.

Askarov is the head of the local human rights group Vozdukh (Air), and his work over many years has focused on prison conditions and the police's treatment of detainees.

He had reportedly been documenting the killings and arson attacks in southern Kyrgyzstan in June last year that mainly affected ethnic Uzbeks.

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.

Read more in Kyrgyz here