Kyrgyzstan’s Supreme Court began its review of the conviction of Azimjan Askarov, a prominent ethnic Uzbek activist serving a life sentence for stirring up ethnic hatred during deadly clashes six years ago, but quickly postponed the process for a day.
The fresh hearing began on July 11 amid tight security in a courtroom packed with hundreds of journalists and representatives of local and international rights groups -- and reportedly the U.S. and German embassies in Bishkek -- before it was adjourned until early on July 12, according to attendees.
Askarov, who has consistently said his prosecution is politically motivated, was not present in court.
Amid international calls on Bishkek to release Askarov, the Supreme Court said last month that its December 2011 decision was being reconsidered because of "new circumstances that appeared in the case."
A Kyrgyz national of Uzbek origin, Askarov was convicted of helping organize violence between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in southern Kyrgyzstan in 2010, when more than 450 people were killed -- most of them ethnic Uzbeks -- and many thousands of people fled their homes.
Askarov also was convicted of involvement in the killing of a police officer during the violence.
His lawyer said the proceedings against his client were based on a confession obtained under duress and ethnic prejudice.
“Azimjan Askarov has repeatedly said that he was tortured to confess and that he was jailed in violation of all procedural norms and only because he is a right activist and an Uzbek,” Askarov’s lawyer, Nurbek Toktakunov, told the court on July 11.
Anna Neistat, senior director for research at Amnesty International, wrote ahead of the hearing that “the ruling will have a significant impact on the international reputation of a country that claims to be a bastion of democracy in Central Asia.”
“Governments, diplomats, and Amnesty International supporters around the world will be watching,” Neistat wrote on July 8.
The United Nations has urged Kyrgyzstan to release Askarov, who says the case against him was politically motivated. Amnesty International considers him a prisoner of conscience.
Kyrgyz authorities recently told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that the government was preparing to confiscate Askarov's home, in the village of Bazar-Korgon, in accordance with his sentence. His wife, Khadicha Askarova, said around 20 officials turned up to evaluate the property on May 25, about a month after the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) urged the Kyrgyz government to release Askarov.
Local rights defenders say the home of a convicted individual may not be confiscated if it is occupied by relatives.
Some of the rights groups who sent representatives to the July 11 hearing include the Dublin-based Frontline Defenders, Amnesty International, and the International Federation For Human Rights.