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Kyrgyzstan lawyers demand protection in ethnic violence trials

A group of Kyrgyz lawyers is refusing to proceed with defending of ethnic Uzbeks in connection with eruptions of ethnic violence in June unless the government provides increased protections for them and their families. Group representatives cite multiple instances of violence against defenders of those accused of stoking ethnic violence [Guardian backgrounder; JURIST news archive] surrounding the overthrow of president Kurmanbek Bakiyev [BBC profile] and the ratification of a new constitution in June [JURIST report]. The lawyers say that aggrieved family members of those who died in the skirmishes often mistakenly believe that defendants, most of whom are Uzbek minorities, have confessed to crimes when there is suspicion that corrupt Kyrgyz majority-dominated courts and police may be relying on confessions elicited through the use of torture [UN report]. One such incident earlier this month caught the attention of Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] when an angry mob attacked a 50-year-old suspect and three of his relatives [HRW report] in the parking lot of a military courthouse as he arrived to stand trial. At an October 15 press conference in the southern city of Osh, the lawyers presented a petition [Ferghana report] demanding better security from local authorities signed by 161 lawyers and announced plans to picket the nation's Supreme Court on October 21.

A Kyrgyz court handed down the first convictions stemming from the violence last month when the Nooken District Court [GolbaLex backgrounder] sentenced five men to life terms [JURIST report] on charges of murder, fomenting ethnic hatred, instigating violence and organizing public unrest. Among them was prominent human rights activist Azimjan Askarov. The convictions were later described as politically motivated [Reuters report]. In July, Kyrgyz authorities announced the opening of more than 1,000 criminal cases [JURIST report] stemming from the violence and that 106 individuals had been detained, with 97 in custody. Also in July, Kyrgyz President Roza Otunbayeva [Telegraph profile] established a commission [JURIST report] to investigate ethnic violence against the country's Uzbek minority. The commission is expected to consult with government and international experts and present its findings on the causes and repercussions of the violence this year.

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