Uzbek rights defender sentenced to 8 years

A prominent Uzbek rights activist has been sentenced to eight years in prison for blackmail, embezzlement and slander, a U.S-based rights group said Tuesday, the latest in a series of court convictions targeting opposition and rights groups.

Human Rights Watch called the conviction of Mutabar Tojibayeva part of a "ferocious" pattern of persecution of government critics.

A district court on Monday found Tojibayeva, head of a rights group known as the Fiery Hearts Club, guilty on more than a dozen charges that include extortion and misuse of land.

Tojibayeva's lawyer, Khusan Makhbubov, declined to comment on the verdict, but said he would appeal it.

"The trial that led to the sentence of Tojibayeva is so unsound that her conviction cannot be allowed to stand," said Holly Cartner, Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia director.

The ex-Soviet republic's authoritarian government has stepped up pressure on government critics, arresting and trying dozens following last May's uprising in the eastern city of Andijan. Rights groups and witnesses say more than 700 people were killed in the uprising, but government denies that.

Tojibayeva, who was arrested in October, has criticized the crackdown.

"We view Tojibayeva's conviction as part of a pattern of persecution against independent voices and critics within civil society since the Andijan massacre," Cartner said. "The ferocity of this pattern is unprecedented."

During the trial, Tojibaeva was not allowed to see her family and her health was reportedly deteriorating, reports the AP.