Economic aid to Kyrgyzstan must be conditioned by the release of Azimjan Askarov

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Interview with Tolekan Ismailova and Ales Bialiatski, FIDH Vice Presidents

Who is Mr Askarov?

Tolekan Ismailova: Mr Askarov is one of the most prominent human rights defenders and journalists in Kyrgyzstan. He has been defending minority rights and victims of injustice and torture for many years. He has been documenting and investigating human rights violations targeting the Uzbek minority in southern Kyrgyzstan.

He has therefore been under the radar of the authorities and was arrested after he began documenting the involvement of the authorities in the tragic ethnic confrontations between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz of June 2010. This saw him subjected to an unfair trial and condemned to life imprisonment. During pre-trial detention he was subjected to torture, and his brother and wife were also persecuted and assaulted by the police.

Can you explain the circumstances surrounding Mr Askarov’s arrest?

Tolekan Ismailova: Mr Askarov was arrested for his activities to promote human rights. After the tragic June 2010 events, he carried out a thorough investigation, collected information and visited injured people in hospitals in Bazarkorgon, where the fighting took place. Ninety-eight per cent of the victims were from the Uzbek minority. He unearthed information implicating the provisional government and was able to prove that the whole operation had been planned in advance by the authorities. He discovered that weapons had been stockpiled and that ethnic-Kyrgiz youths were sent to the region in order to assault and provoke the Uzbek minority, who was then accused of attacks, when people were in fact defending their homes and families.

In 2010, during an FIDH mission in Kyrgyzstan, you visited Azimjan Askarov in jail. Could you tell us about his conditions of detention?

Tolekan Ismailova: Azimjan Askarov’s conditions of detention do not meet the minimum international standards, notably in terms of hygiene.

He is alone in his cell because of threats he has been receiving. During our last interview, he told us he feared for his life if he were to be transferred to the new prison built for life sentences. He is afraid that the Kyrgyz will kill him.

His spouse, Khadija Askarova has complained about the visiting rules: only 3 short and 3 long visits are allowed each year under applicable laws.

From your personal experience, what can we do to support his release?

Ales Bialiatski: I think that in the case of Azimjan Askarov, efforts made by the international community are not sufficient to secure his release.

Kyrgyzstan is a distant country. Neighboring countries have worse human rights records, like China, Uzbekistan, etc. Comparatively, Kyrgyzstan appears to be a “good pupil”. Nonetheless, Kyrgyzstan is detaining a human rights defender arbitrarily, after having severely and unjustly condemned him to life imprisonment. This is unacceptable. Neither the “internal” justifications invoked by the Kyrgyz authorities, nor the lack of positioning by democratic countries can justify this.

I believe that any economic assistance to Kyrgyzstan must be conditioned by the release of Azimjan Askarov.

Azimjan Askarov’s case is fundamental for all human rights defenders because any one of us could face the same situation. This is why we must absolutely act together for the release of Azimjan Askarov.

Do you have a particular message you wish to address to Azimjan Askarov?

Ales Bialiatski: I would like to tell him to hang in there, to keep faith. He needs to know that he is not alone and that many people are thinking about him and are feeling for him. I call on Azimjan to believe that, in the end, he will get justice.

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