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Ramazan Esergepov, editor of 'Alma-Ata Info'
A prison appeals commission today rejected a request for early parole by jailed "Alma-Ata Info" editor Ramazan Esergepov, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports.

Esergepov's wife, Raushan Esergepova, told RFE/RL she thinks the commission, in the southern Kazakh city of Taraz, made the decision under pressure "from above."

Esergepova said the prison commission ruled on January 12 to parole Esergepov, who has served one year of his three-year sentence. But she added that the same commission held a second meeting on January 23 and ruled to keep Esergepov in jail.

Taraz prison officials refused to comment on the decisions and told RFE/RL to send a formal inquiry.

Esergepova said she received a letter from Deputy Prosecutor-General Askar Sekishev in December that said Esergepov has the right to be paroled after having served one-third of his prison term.

Esergepova said she will appeal the commission's negative decision to the Prosecutor-General's Office.

Rozlana Taukina, the head of the Kazakh nongovernmental organization Journalists in Trouble, told RFE/RL that it will protest against the commission decision, which she called "another subjective and prejudiced decision against a journalist who criticized the security services."

Esergepov was found guilty of revealing state secrets and sentenced to three years in prison one year ago. His supporters and rights organizations say the case against him is politically motivated because of his independent newspaper, which has stopped publishing since his arrest.
Russia's Supreme Court today reduced the prison sentences of the leaders of a group of 10 skinheads jailed in September for ethnically motivated attacks, RFE/RL's Russian Service reports.

The court ruled to cut by one year the sentences of skinhead leaders Ilya Shutko, 19, and Yevgenia Zhikhareva, 18, to nine and seven years in prison, respectively. All the members had originally received sentences of three to 10 years in jail.

The court said the criminal liability on a number of charges against the two had expired.

The Prosecutor-General's Office said previously that all the crimes -- which were committed against non-Slavic people -- were done on the grounds of ethnic hatred and aimed to incite national or religious enmity.

On February 1, 2008, Kyrgyz citizen Altynbek Ashirov was beaten by five of the skinheads and stabbed to death by Shutko. In February and March 2008, the group of skinheads made three murder attempts in Moscow against Kyrgyz, Uzbek, and Chinese citizens.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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