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UN Rights Envoy Criticizes Kyrgyz Court Over Life Sentence

Sherzod, son of Azimjan Askarov, receiving the Homo Homini Award on behalf of his father in Prague in March.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has expressed "deep regret" over a Kyrgyz court's confirmation of a life sentence for a prominent ethnic Uzbek rights activist jailed over deadly ethnic violence last year in southern Kyrgyzstan.

Azimjon Askarov and seven other ethnic Uzbeks were found guilty in September 2010 of organizing ethnic clashes in the south of the country three months earlier, and of involvement in the murder of a policeman during the violence.

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

Pillay said it was "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."

The bloodshed exposed dangerous ethnic and geographic rifts in Kyrgyzstan and prompted hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes.

Askarov, head of rights group Vozdukh (Air), reportedly was 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 were wounded.

Askarov has said his case is politically motivated and has denied any involvement in the crimes for which he was convicted.