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Kyrgyz Supreme Court Upholds Rights Activist's Life Sentence

Azimjan Askarov in prison in March
Azimjan Askarov in prison in March
BISHKEK -- Kyrgyzstan's Supreme Court has upheld the life sentence handed down to a prominent ethnic Uzbek rights activist jailed over last year's deadly ethnic violence, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports.

RFE/RL's correspondent reported from the courtroom that the Supreme Court ruled that Azimjan Askarov's sentence cannot be changed, as his guilt had been proven during the investigation and previous court proceedings.

The Supreme Court did, however, rule that the prison term of one of Askarov's co-defendants, Minura Mamadalieva, should be shortened from 20 years to 11 years.

Askarov's lawyer, Nurbek Toktakunov, told RFE/RL on December 20 that the Supreme Court's decision was "unprincipled."

"More precisely, the court does not exist in our republic. We do not have courts. And those so-called judges who implement justice are in fact minor bureaucrats, who make decisions looking at the authorities, toeing the line," Toktakunov said.

"In fact, we did not have a just trial. I presented lots of evidence proving violations of the legal process, violations committed by law enforcement organs, torture committed by the law enforcement organs, but [the judges] have ignored all that."

Prominent Rights Activist

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 in the south of the country in June of that year and of involvement in the murder of a policeman during the violence.

Askarov and four others were sentenced to life in prison, two were given 20-year prison terms, and one was sentenced to nine years.

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 2010 in which 400 people, most of them ethnic 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.

Ambassador Janez Lenarcic, the head of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, released a statement expressing his dismay over the Supreme Court's verdict.

Lenarcic said that "given the serious violations of Askarov's right to a fair trial...the Supreme Court decision raises grave concerns about the ability or willingness of Kyrgyzstan's judicial system to address shortcomings" in trial processes.

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.

The United Nations' special rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, said in Bishkek on December 13 that he hoped Askarov's case would be retried.

Read more in Kyrgyz here

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