Three members of Kyrgyzstan's opposition were jailed for between 12 and 20 years today over an alleged coup plot captured on a disputed audio recording aired on the internet.
The sentences are likely to add to fears of a crackdown ahead of November elections, following anti-government protests.
A Bishkek court jailed activist Ernest Karybekov for 20 years, and former MP Kubanychbek Kadyrov and ex-regional governor Bektur Asanov for 12 years each for their roles in the purported plot.
A fourth defendant, ex-foreign minister Dastan Sarygulov, was given a suspended four-year sentence at the closed-doors hearing.
The four men were arrested last year shortly after the recording appeared to show Asanov and Kadyrov plotting to seize power in the fragile republic of six million.
The opposition figures claimed the recording was heavily edited.
While ex-Soviet Kyrgyzstan is the most democratic country in a region dominated by long-ruling strongmen, it has also been the most politically volatile in recent times.
Protests have grown in frequency as the country prepares for November's presidential elections in which current leader Almazbek Atambayev is constitutionally barred from standing.
In February and March security services arrested two opposition leaders who had announced plans to run for office. They were detained on separate charges of corruption and organising the kidnapping of a state official.
The Central Asian country's state prosecutor has also launched lawsuits against media outlets including the US government-funded Kyrgyz service of Radio Free Europe that it accuses of defaming Atambayev.
Mainly Muslim Kyrgyzstan experienced two revolutions that unseated presidents in 2005 and 2010, followed by ethnic violence that left more than 400 dead.
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