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UN Rights Chief Decries Kyrgyz Decision To Uphold Activist's Life Sentence

Imprisoned Kyrgyz human rights defender Azimjan Askarov plans to go on hunger strike if no action is taken on his case by the start of next year.
Imprisoned Kyrgyz human rights defender Azimjan Askarov plans to go on hunger strike if no action is taken on his case by the start of next year.
BISHKEK/PRAGUE -- The UN's human rights chief has expressed "deep regret" that Kyrgyzstan's Supreme Court upheld the life sentence of a prominent ethnic Uzbek rights activist jailed over last year's deadly ethnic violence.

The court on December 20 ruled that Azimjan Askarov's sentence cannot be changed, as his guilt was proven during the investigation and previous court proceedings.

Askarov and seven other ethnic Uzbeks were found guilty in September 2010 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.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said on December 22 that it is "particularly alarming that the judges failed to consider the defendants' claims that confessions had been extracted under duress."

Pillay called on Kyrgyz judges to "ensure that the civil rights of defendants are protected, particularly when there are allegations of torture."

Kyrgyz human rights activist Tolekan Ismailova, who visited Askarov in a detention center in Bishkek on December 22, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that Askarov plans to start a hunger strike as of January 10 if the Kyrgyz government takes no action in his case.

Askarov's lawyer, Nurbek Toktakunov, told RFE/RL that he does not support his client's plan to go on a hunger strike.

Toktakunov said he is currently working with the Supreme Court on Askarov's new appeal and Ismailova's statement regarding Askarov's plans to start hunger strike could affect that deal.

Askarov is the head of the human rights group Vozdukh (Air), and his work over many years 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 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.

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 UN's special rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, said in Bishkek on December 13 that he hopes Askarov's case will be retried.

Read more in Kyrgyz here and here

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