Kyrgyzstan - Azimjan Askarov, #47 Prison, Bishkek, 28Dec2011
FILE - Ethnic Uzbek human rights activist Azimjan Askarov, #47 Prison, Bishkek, Dec. 28, 2011.

BISHKEK, KYRGYZSTAN - Kyrgyzstan's Supreme Court has started to hear the appeal of ethnic Uzbek human rights activist Azimjan Askarov against a life sentence he was originally given in 2017.

Askarov's wife, Khadicha Askarova and their son Sherzod Askarov, as well as human rights defenders and representatives of foreign diplomatic missions attended the first day of the hearing on February 25.

Journalists were not allowed in the courtroom but Khadicha Askarova told RFE/RL that she expects "good news" from the appeal.

After prosecutors and Askarov's lawyers presented their arguments, they asked the court for more time to study case materials because of new details that have emerged.

The judge granted the motion, adjourning the hearing until April 6.

Askarov, who also contributed to independent news websites, has been jailed since 2010 on charges of creating a mass disturbance and involvement in the murder of a police officer during deadly ethnic clashes between local Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in June 2010. More than 450 people, mainly Uzbeks, were killed and tens of thousands more were displaced during the violence.

Askarov, 68, has insisted that his case is politically motivated. Rights groups, including the UN Human Rights Committee, have urged Kyrgyzstan to release the activist, saying that he was arbitrarily detained, tortured, and denied his right to a fair trial.

Ahead of the Supreme Court hearing, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) urged the Kyrgyz authorities not to contest Askarov's appeal and to release him immediately.

"If Kyrgyzstan wants to wash the terrible stain from its press-freedom and human rights record, it should finally release Azimjon Askarov," Gulnoza Said, CPJ's Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, said in a statement.

"Kyrgyz authorities should deliver long-overdue justice in Askarov's final appeal, and allow him to reunite with his loved ones and get adequate medical treatment," according to Said.

In July 2016, the Supreme Court voided Askarov's conviction and sent the case back to a lower court for review in light of "new circumstances that appeared in the case."

However, a court in Bishkek reinstated a life sentence for Askarov in January 2017.

And in July last year, a court in the northern Chui region upheld Askarov's sentence in a ruling described as a "triumph of injustice" by Amnesty International.