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Court upholds life sentence for Kyrgyz journalist and activist Azimjon Askarov

Journalist and human rights activist Azimjon Askarov looks through bars at his retrial near Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, October 11, 2016. (AP/VladimirVoronin)

New York, January 24, 2017--Kyrgyz authorities should immediately release journalist and human rights activist Azimjon Askarov and drop all charges against him, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Kyrgyzstan's Chui Regional Court today upheld a September 2010 life sentence against Askarov on charges of complicity in murder and inciting hatred for reporting on fatal ethnic violence in June of that year. The journalist's son, Sherzod Askarov, told CPJ that Askarov would appeal the verdict and that he had gone on hunger strike.

Askarov's retrial began October 4, 2016, following the UN Human Rights Committee's March 31, 2016, finding that the journalist had been arbitrarily detained, tortured, mistreated, and that he had been prevented from adequately preparing his defense. During the retrial, the court dismissed several requests from his defense team, including that the journalist be freed during the retrial to enable him to seek medical care. Several defense witnesses told the court they were threatened during the first trial, and said they feared for their safety if they defended Askarov again.

"We are appalled by today's verdict to uphold Azimjon Askarov's sentence to life in prison," CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. "Askarov should not have spent a day behind bars for reporting on human rights violations, yet more than six years after his unjust imprisonment, he continues to be held on patently political charges."

Reuters reported today that U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Prince Zeid bin Ra'ad al-Hussein called the verdict "deeply troubling" and said it was "truly unfortunate" the court had not considered allegations that Askarov had been tortured.

Askarov is a 2012 recipient of CPJ's International Press Freedom Award. CPJ has advocated for his release since he was arrested in June 2010.

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