Charged with complicity in the murder of a policeman, inciting violence and mass disorder, Mr. Azimjan Askarov, an ethnic Uzbek, founder of human rights NGO Vozduh (Air), was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2010 in a trial that was marred by allegations of torture, intimidation, due process violations and violations of the right to a fair trial. Azimjan Askarov and his lawyers have repeatedly claimed the innocence of the defendant, providing proof that he was not even present at the crime scene.
In March 2016, the UN Human Rights Committee (CCPR) ordered the quashing of Mr. Askarov’s conviction, as well as his immediate release. However, Mr. Askarov was not released as requested in the UN decision.
During the appeal retrial hearings, six other co-accused admitted having been tortured, ill-treated and threatened with further violence in case they did not testify against the defendant. The failure by the court to neither investigate claims of torture nor the pressure exerted on defence witnesses demonstrated that the retrial fell short of a number of internationally-recognised fair trial standards. The principle of equality of arms was violated: Mr. Askarov was placed in a metal cage during all hearings, his lawyers and supporters were intimidated and slandered throughout the process.
“Azimjan Askarov is not a criminal. He is a human rights defender. The verdict of January 24 will be a test case on Kyrgyzstan’s willingness to comply with United Nations decisions, andlive up with its human rights commitments ”, our organisations said today.
Prior to his arrest in June 2010, Mr. Azimjan Askarov was investigating police brutality as well as detention conditions in Kyrgyz prisons. He notably documented violence in Bazar Korgon during ethnic clashes that sparked in June 2010 in southern Kyrgyzstan, resulting in the death of nearly 500 Uzbeks and the displacement of hundreds of thousands.
The Observatory calls on the Kyrgyz authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Askarov, and to ensure an enabling environment for human rights defenders in the country.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and OMCT. The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.