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Human rights activist Ales Byalyatski sits in a guarded cage in a courtroom in Minsk during his trial in November 2011.
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. State Department has named jailed Belarusian rights activist Ales Byalyatski a recipient of its annual Human Rights Defenders Award.

The award honors "individuals or nongovernmental organizations that show exceptional valor and leadership in advocating the protection of human rights and democracy in the face of government repression."

Byalyatski is the founder of the banned Vyasna (Spring) human rights organization, which has monitored and reported on Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's ongoing crackdown on dissent.

In late 2011 he was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison on tax-evasion charges, which the European Union and United States condemned as politically motivated.

Russian rights activist Igor Kalyapin, who has documented human rights abuses in Chechnya, was a nominee for the award.
Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari not to sign a bill creating a national human rights commission until changes are made to the legislation that would authorize investigations of the military and the intelligence agencies for alleged abuses.

HRW's Asia Director Brad Adams said that "if given teeth," the National Human Rights Commission could play a critical role in improving Pakistan’s dire human rights situation.

On May 4, the Pakistani parliament adopted a measure that would establish an independent human-rights body, with members appointed by a cross-party committee.

It would have the authority to summon witnesses and obtain government documents but would not have the legal authority to probe the military or intelligence agencies.

The law requires presidential approval for it to take effect.

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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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