KYRGYZSTAN: Critical health condition of Mr. Azimjan Askarov, unjustly detained for more than a decade

24/07/2020
Press release

Paris-Geneva, July 24 2020 – While wrongfully imprisoned human rights defender Azimjan Askarov’s health is seriously deteriorating, to the extent that he can no longer walk, the Kyrgyz authorities are denying him independent medical assistance. The Observatory (FIDH-OMCT) expresses its deepest concerns about Azimjan Askarov’s critical health condition and urges the Kyrgyz government to provide him with urgent medical help and ensure his immediate release.

On July 22, 2020, Azimjan Askarov’s lawyer, Valerian Vakhitov, reported that the human rights defender’s health has critically deteriorated. When Mr. Vakhitov visited him the same day, two prison officials had to carry Mr. Askarov in their arms, as he was not able to walk himself. During the visit, Mr. Askarov could barely speak and presented COVID-19 symptoms, including cough and dizziness. The lawyer noted that Mr. Azimjan Askarov had significantly lost weight: he had no appetite for over ten days and has been receiving glucose and vitamins injections.

On July 24, the prison authorities transferred Mr. Azimjan Askarov from the prison where he is serving his sentence to medical penitentiary institution N. 47 for a medical check. While the Observatory welcomes this decision, we are concerned with the fact that Mr. Askarov is denied independent medical assistance from private services, as had been requested earlier by FIDH member organisation Bir-Duino-Kyrgyzstan.

"Askarov’s sentence is politically motivated, and the human rights defender should not had been sentenced in the first place. Now that his health has critically deteriorated, it is vital to release him and provide him with urgent medical care. Every day that Askarov spends in prison is a further breach of the right to life and human dignity by Kyrgyzstan", said Tolekan Ismailova, the FIDH Vice-President, Chair of the Bir-Duino-Kyrgyzstan.

“In light of the growing number of COVID-19 cases in Kyrgyzstan and the inaction of the Kyrgyz authorities in the face of the high risk of the coronavirus spread in prisons, with several cases of death reported by the Bir-Duino-Kyrgyzstan, we express our utmost concern regarding the state of health of Azimjan Askarov, and urge the Kyrgyz authorities to provide him with urgent medical help and to ensure his immediate release”, OMCT Secrtary General Gerald Staberock added.

Mr. Azimjan Askarov, the Director of the human rights organisation “Vozdukh”, is currently serving a life sentence in the penitentiary colony N 19 in Bishkek. The Observatory recalls that Mr. Askarov was arrested on June 15, 2010, immediately after inter-ethnic clashes between Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities that were accompanied by police violence. The human rights defender was accused of, among others, participating in mass riots, inciting ethnic hatred, and complicity in the murder of a police officer. The case was built on testimonies extracted under torture and on statements from Kyrgyz police officers whose work and human rights violations Mr. Askarov had been documenting at the scene. As reported by the Observatory in its 2016 report “Kyrgyzstan at a crossroads: shrink or widen the scene for human rights defenders”, from the very beginning of the judicial proceedings in 2010, the case was marked as politically motivated.

The Observatory recalls that, in March 2016, the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) found that Mr. Azimjan Askarov was arbitrarily detained, held in inhumane conditions, tortured and otherwise ill-treated without redress, and was not given a fair trial and urged Kyrgyzstan to immediately release him. In an April 2016 statement, the European Union (EU) called on Kyrgyzstan to “fully implement” the Committee’s Opinion.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (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.

Press contacts:
• FIDH: Ms. Eva Canan, +33 6 48 05 91 57 / Email: ecanan@fidh.org (Paris)
• OMCT: Ms. Iolanda Jaquemet, +41 79 539 41 06 / Email: ij@omct.org (Geneva)

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