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The Supreme Court in the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan on Tuesday refused to release an ethnic Uzbek journalist and activist serving a life sentence after being convicted of stirring up ethnic hatred, but instead sent his case to a regional court for review. International rights groups consider Azimzhan Askarov a prisoner of conscience.
 
The U.N. Human Rights Committee in April urged Kyrgyzstan to release Askarov, recognizing that he had been arbitrarily detained, tortured and denied his right to a fair trial. This opened the way for a reconsideration of his case, and Kyrgyzstan's Supreme Court began hearings on Monday.

The charges against Askarov relate to ethnic unrest in the south of Kyrgyzstan in 2010 when more than 450 people, mostly ethnic Uzbeks, were killed and tens or even hundreds of thousands were displaced. He is accused of inciting the mob killing of a police officer.

Amnesty International sharply criticized the court's decision on Tuesday to keep 65-year-old Askarov in prison while a lower court reviews his case.

"It's a missed opportunity for Kyrgyzstan to do the right thing by finally releasing a man who should never have been jailed in the first place. Today's decision by the Supreme Court ignores Kyrgyzstan's obligations under international human rights law," Amnesty International senior research director Anna Neistat said in a statement.

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