BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan (AP) — The Supreme Court in the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan on Monday began reviewing the case of an ethnic Uzbek journalist and activist serving a life sentence after being convicted of stirring up ethnic hatred.
International rights groups consider Azimzhan Askarov a prisoner of conscience and the U.N. Human Rights Committee has recently urged Kyrgyzstan to release him.
Kyrgyzstan's Supreme Court opened the hearings on Monday and immediately turned down a defense plea to deliver Askarov to the hearings.
Charges against Askarov relate to the 2010 massacre in the south of Kyrgyzstan when more than 450 people, mostly ethnic Uzbeks, were killed and tens or even hundreds of thousands were displaced by the unrest. Dozens of people are still missing. The majority of those convicted for taking part in the deadly clashes were ethnic Uzbeks.
In April, the U.N. Human Rights Committee urged Kyrgyzstan to immediately release Askarov, recognizing that he had been arbitrarily detained, tortured and denied his right to a fair trial. In accordance with Kyrgyzstani criminal procedure legislation, decisions adopted by the U.N. committee, through its individual communications procedure, open the way to reconsider criminal cases under new circumstances.
The journalist's lawyer told the court that the proceedings against his client were based on false testimony and ethnic prejudice.
"Azimzhan 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 rights activist and an Uzbek," his lawyer Nurbek Toktakunov told the court in the capital, Bishkek.
The U.S. State Department last year conferred a share of its annual Human Rights Defender award on Askarov, triggering an angry reaction of the Kyrgyz government.