KYRGYZSTAN: UN calls for immediate release of human rights defender Azimjan Askarov

Press release

Paris-Geneva-Bishkek, April 25, 2016 - In a decision made public on April 21, the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee (CCPR) confirmed that Azimjan Askarov was tortured, subject to inhuman conditions while in pre-trial detention and that his trial did not respect minimum international fair trial standards. The CCPR urged Kyrgyzstan to immediately release Azimjan Askarov, sentenced to life imprisonment in 2010 after mass disturbances in southern Kyrgyzstan.

Arrested on June 15, 2010, Azimjan Askarov was charged with participating in mass unrest, inciting racial strife, illegal weapons trafficking, and being an accessory to the murder of a police officer. 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 its decision, the UN CCPR ordered the quashing of A. Askarov’s conviction on the grounds that A. Askarov’s defence was obstructed during the judicial process, through the prevention of the examination of witnesses on his behalf, obstacles posed on A. Askarov’s lawyer from attending the first hearing, and the little time allocated for the preparation of his defence.

Since his arrest in June 2010, A. Askarov has claimed that he was tortured and ill-treated during the first days of detention, when he was also denied access to a lawyer. His claims were never duly investigated by Kyrgyzstan. On April 21, the UN CCPR also confirmed the inhuman treatment and acts of torture suffered by Azimjan Askarov, and ordered the State to provide compensation and remedy.

“For the past six years, we have been relentlessly denouncing the unfair trial and arbitrary detention suffered by Azimjan Askarov, and most recently raised his case during an Observatory fact-finding mission in Kyrgyzstan. We hope that this landmark UN decision will make Kyrgyzstan stand up to its international commitments, and lead to the release of A. Askarov”, said FIDH President Karim Lahidji.

Prior to his detention in June 2010, A. Askarov, an ethnic Uzbek, was investigating police brutality as well as detention conditions in Kyrgyz prisons. During the ethnic clashes of June 2010 in southern Kyrgyzstan that resulted in the death of nearly 500 Uzbeks and the displacement of hundreds of thousands, A. Askarov notably documented violence in Bazar Kurgan.

“The continuous harassment of Azimjan Askarov while in detention is not only unacceptable. It is a clear violation of prisoners’ rights. To any objective observer it also underscores the political nature of the case in the first place. There is really no justification whatsoever to restrict his rights to receive parcels and to receive visits, including family members and his lawyer”, said OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock.

Since the award of the Human Rights Defenders Prize by the United States State Department in July 2015, the Kyrgyz Government has been declining all visit requests from Western diplomats, human rights defenders and NGOs, including one from the Observatory in September 2015.

The Observatory urges the international community to call upon the Kyrgyz authorities to immediately release Azimjan Askarov in conformity with the CCPR decision, and to refrain from further harassment against the latter whose health keeps deteriorating. A. Askarov has been diagnosed with severe heart diseases, and his vision and hearing have deteriorated significantly during the last months. It is likely that these symptoms are at least partially connected to the injuries he sustained in 2010 while in the hands of the police.

Last week, the Director of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the European Union External Action Service (EEAS) called on the Kyrgyz authorities to implement the CCPR decision. The OSCE/ODIHR Director specifically urged the authorities to release A. Askarov.

The UN CCPR is the body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by its State parties. The case of A. Askarov was considered under the First Optional Protocol to the Covenant, which gives the CCPR competence to examine individual complaints.

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 intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders.

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