This morning, the Court confirmed the original verdict of 2010, finding Mr. Azimjan Askarov, an ethnic Uzbek, founder of the human rights NGO Vozduh (Air), guilty of complicity in the murder of a policeman, inciting violence and mass disorder. As the initial trial was marred by allegations of torture, intimidation, due process violations and violations of the right to a fair trial, in March 2016, the UN Human Rights Committee (CCPR) ordered the quashing of Mr. Askarov’s conviction as well as his release on the grounds that his defence was obstructed during the judicial process, through the prevention of the examination of witnesses on his behalf, obstacles posed on his lawyer from attending the first hearing, and the little time allocated for the preparation of his defence. During the appeal retrial hearings, which took place from October 4, 2016 to January 24, 2017, six other co-accused admitted having been tortured, ill-treated and threatened with further violence in case they did not testify against the defendant.
“ This verdict is clearly politically motivated. Azimjan Askarov should never have been imprisoned in the first place, and every day of his sentence is Kyrgyzstan’s defiance of international human rights law and UN institutions ”, said lawyer Kirill Koroteev, who attended several hearings of the retrial on behalf of the Observatory.
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. Mr. Askarov and his lawyers have repeatedly claimed the innocence of the defendant, providing proof that he was not even present at the crime scene.
Throughout the new appeal re-trial, the principle of equality of arms was once again blatantly violated: Mr. Askarov was not released as requested in the UN decision, placed in a metal cage during all hearings and forced to wear a jacket bearing the inscription "Life imprisonment", in breach of the principle of presumption of innocence. In addition, his lawyers and supporters were intimidated and slandered throughout the process. Three of the six main prosecution witnesses questioned on October 11, 2016 - all former police officers present at the scene of the accident - failed to remember whether Mr. Azimjan Askarov was among the crowd when it attacked the police officer. The other three witnesses could not remember neither how the latter looked that day, nor how he would have incited the crowd to attack policemen. Finally, the failure by the court to investigate claims of torture and pressure exerted on defence witnesses also demonstrated that the appeal re-trial fell short of recognised fair trial standards.
At the normative level, this trial has led to the adoption of constitutional amendments by referendum on December 11, 2016, resulting in the effective repeal of Article 41.2 of the Constitution. This Article provided that the finding by an international human rights body of a violation of international treaties ratified by Kyrgyzstan shall be considered as “new circumstances” that warrant the reopening of criminal proceedings. On April 27, 2016, in the aftermath of the UN CCPR decision, Mr. Askarov had filed an appeal to review his conviction before the Supreme Court on the basis of that Article.
The Observatory will publish a trial observation report in the coming weeks, shedding light on fair trial violations that took place during the proceedings before the Chuy Regional Court, in breach of Kyrgyzstan’s international human rights commitments.
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.
For more information, please contact:
• FIDH: Arthur Manet / Audrey Couprie: +33143552518
• OMCT: Delphine Reculeau: +41228094939