Health of prisoner of conscience at risk

Azimjan Askarov
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The prosecution and conviction of Kyrgyzstani human rights defender Azimjan Askarov, an ethnic Uzbek, followed ethnic clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan in 2010, which resulted in the deaths of 470 people. During these events, Azimjan Askrarov was documenting human rights violations. The criminal proceedings against him that followed targeted him for his human rights work. In a report published in December 2010 (see here: Amnesty International noted that the disproportionate number of Uzbeks facing charges relative to Kyrgyz was striking. This was particularly surprising as the majority of victims of crimes committed during the June violence were ethnic Uzbeks. 

The trial of Azimjan Askarov and his seven co-defendants accused of the murder of an ethnic Kyrgyz police officer during violence in Bazar-Korgan exposed the failure of the authorities to guarantee fair trial rights in line with Kyrgyzstan’s international human rights commitments. The trial took place between 2 and 15 September 2010 in Nooken and was marred by repeated acts of violence against Azimjan Askarov’s family and his lawyers, both inside and outside the courtroom. Reportedly, court officials and the judge, only sporadically intervened to stop the violence and restore order.

Reports of torture or other ill-treatment in the aftermath of the June 2010 violence were widespread. Suspects were beaten by law enforcement officers in the street during apprehension, during transfer to detention centres, during initial interrogation, or in pre-charge detention facilities. Azimjan Askarov alleged that he was subjected to torture and other ill-treatment in police custody in Bazar-Korgan and Jalal-Abad shortly after his arrest. His allegations of torture, and those of others, have never been effectively investigated.

In September 2010, Azimjan Askarov was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. He was found guilty of participating in mass disturbances, inciting ethnic hatred, and complicity in the murder of a police officer who had been killed during the unrest. Azimjan Askarov’s credible allegations that he was tortured in pre-trial detention have never been properly investigated. 

The United Nations Human Rights Committee concluded in March 2016 that Azimjan Askarov had been arbitrarily detained, held in inhumane conditions, tortured and otherwise ill-treated without redress, and was not given a fair trial. The Committee called on Kyrgyzstan to take appropriate steps to immediately release Azimjan Askarov and quash his conviction. Although the decision prompted a judicial review of his case in January 2017, the court upheld the verdict. 

The European Union External Action Service called on Kyrgyzstan to “fully implement” the Committee’s ruling in an April 2016 statement. More recently, in January 2019, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the EU-Kyrgyzstan comprehensive agreement calling for Azimjan Askarov’s immediate release and full rehabilitation, and for Kyrgyzstan to quash his conviction and provide him with reparation. These calls have been consistently ignored by Kyrgyzstan. 

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