Seven human rights NGOs urge Kyrgyzstan to ensure Azimjon Askarov’s right to a fair trial

Press release

In a joint letter, FIDH and six other international human rights groups urge Chairperson of Kyrgyzstan’s Supreme Court to ensure wrongfully imprisoned human rights defender Azimjon Askarov’s rights to a fair trial. After being sentenced to life in jail on trumped up charges in September 2010, Azimjon Askarov continues to languish behind bars, despite the obligatory ruling by the UN Human Rights Committee that called for his immediate release in March 2016.

Askarov was found guilty of participating in mass disturbances, inciting ethnic hatred, and complicity in the murder of a police officer who was killed during the unrest. The investigation and trial into the alleged crimes were marred by due process and fair trial violations, and were conducted in a hostile atmosphere where relatives of the deceased police officer intimidated and attacked the defendants, their lawyers, and family members. Mr. Askarov’s credible allegations that he was tortured in pre-trial detention have never been properly investigated. His guilty verdict was upheld on appeal, including by the Supreme Court.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee ruled in March 2016 that Azimjon Askarov was arbitrarily detained, held in inhumane conditions, tortured and otherwise ill-treated without redress, and was not given a fair trial. The ruling noted that Kyrgyzstan “violated the author’s rights under article 14 (3) (e) of the Covenant [ICCPR].” The Committee called on Kyrgyzstan to take appropriate steps to immediately release Mr. Askarov and quash his conviction. Although the decision prompted a judicial review of his case, the Bishkek court in January 2017 handed down the same verdict as before. Askarov remains incarcerated, serving a life sentence.

The European Union (EU) has called on Kyrgyzstan to “fully implement” the Committee’s ruling in an April 2016 statement. More recently, in January 2019, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the EU-Kyrgyzstan comprehensive agreement calling for Azimjon Askarov’s immediate release and full rehabilitation, and for Kyrgyzstan to quash his conviction and provide him with reparation.

On 18 March 2019, Azimjon Askarov was transferred from temporary detention facility SIZO-1 in Bishkek to Prison Colony No. 19, located about an hour outside Bishkek, in the Chuy region. According to news reports, following the transfer, 68-year-old Azimjon Askarov was placed in solitary confinement as a punishment for his protest against the restrictions on family visits that he had encountered at the colony.

According to one of his lawyers, who visited Azimjon Askarov in prison on 10 April: “Azimjon Askarov’s health has significantly deteriorated during his time in detention. Askarov has lost weight, he is coughing all the time. He has a dry cough, and at times, he is unable to catch his breath. Azimjon complained that his legs are very cold, and nothing helps – not socks, shoes, or heating. He has stopped drinking fluids to lessen the number of times he must use the toilet.” His lawyer relayed that if Azimjon Askarov is required to stand for long periods of time – such as during a cell check by prison officials, which happens daily – he feels light-headed and dizzy, and has difficulty breathing.

Azimjon Askarov has already served nine years in prison on a conviction handed down in a fundamentally flawed and unfair trial. It is time that Kyrgyzstan demonstrated its commitment to international human rights standards.

Read the full letter here:

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