Askarov v. Kyrgyzstan
Human Rights Defender Tortured by Police and Denied a Fair Trial
In June 2010, Azimjan Askarov, a well-known human rights defender in Kyrgyzstan, was taken to the police station after a police officer was killed during an outburst of ethnic violence in the Bazar-Korgon region of southern Kyrgyzstan. There, Askarov, an ethnic Uzbek, was repeatedly beaten, abused, and denied medical treatment on account of his human rights work. His lawyer, who was only able to see him after a week of torture, was attacked when he tried to visit. These attacks continued during the trial, when police beat Askarov and his co-defendants, and crowds shouted ethnic abuse at their lawyers and threatened potential defence witnesses with violence. After this flagrantly unfair trial, Askarov was sentenced to life in prison, a sentence which was upheld during an appeal that was marred by similar violations, and by the Supreme Court.
The UN Human Rights Committee found that Askarov had been tortured, was arbitrarily detained, had been denied a fair trial, and that he was not provided with adequate medical treatment. The Committee urged Kyrgyzstan to release Askarov and quash his conviction. Instead, the Kyrgyz authorities conducted a second trial that was similarly flawed. Askarov was denied medical treatment for the effects of his torture and other serious conditions. He passed away in prison on July 25, 2020.
On June 12, 2010, ethnic clashes in southern Kyrgyzstan prompted residents of Bazar-Korgon village, many of them ethnic Uzbeks, to gather at a bridge to protect their village in the event of an attack. On the morning of June 13, police officers arrived to allegedly disperse the crowd, violence ensued, and one police officer was killed. Later that day, the ethnic violence shaking the region indeed spread to Bazar-Korgon region, leaving 20 people dead and over 200 houses destroyed.
Askarov was not at the bridge when the police officer was killed. A few days later, on June 15, 2010, Askarov was documenting the damage and deaths caused by the violence when police officers took him to the Bazar-Korgon police station, where the deceased officer had worked. At the station, officers first attempted to convince Askarov to testify that other prominent members of the Uzbek community had allegedly distributed weapons, and when he said he knew nothing about this they started beating him. Askarov was then accused of involvement in the death of the police officer, and for the next four days he was repeatedly beaten and humiliated by police who specifically mentioned his work as a human rights defender. When a judge authorised his detention, three days after his arrest, both the judge and prosecutor declared that his guilt was proven.
Askarov was denied access to a lawyer until a week after he was detained, when a colleague came to visit him and realized he was being tortured. The police and prosecutor refused to allow Askarov the opportunity to meet with his lawyer in private, and his lawyer was attacked by relatives of the dead officer when he came to visit Askarov, who continued to be held in the deceased officer’s police station. These attacks continued during the trial, at which Askarov and his co-defendants were beaten by police during breaks in the hearings, and a crowd of supporters of the deceased police officer hurled ethnic abuse at the defendants, their lawyers, and potential defence witnesses. This climate of intimidation, which the judge did nothing to control, prevented the defence lawyers from mounting an effective defence, or from questioning or calling witnesses to testify on Askarov’s behalf. After this flagrantly unfair trial, Askarov was declared guilty on all charges and sentenced to life in prison on September 15, 2010.
Although Askarov’s lawyer appealed the verdict, similar violations marred his appeal hearing. Threats and attacks by supporters of the deceased officer again prevented defence witnesses from appearing, and the court upheld his conviction and sentence. He appealed again to the Supreme Court, and although his lawyer was permitted to submit written witness statements, the court ignored them. The Supreme Court upheld Askarov’s sentence of life imprisonment in December of 2011, and Askarov remained in prison where he was denied medical treatment for the effects of the repeated torture and other potentially life-threatening medical conditions. He passed away in prison on July 25, 2020.
Open Society Justice Initiative Involvement
The Open Society Justice Initiative is acting as co-counsel with lawyer Nurbek Toktakunov in the complaint to the UN Human Rights Committee.
Torture and Ill-treatment. While in custody, Askarov was repeatedly beaten and abused by police officers for the purpose of obtaining a false confession, due to discrimination on the grounds of Askarov’s ethnic origin, and as punishment for reporting police abuse. This ill-treatment amounts to torture in violation of Article 7 of the ICCPR, and was exacerbated by the conditions in which Askarov was detained and the failure to provide medical treatment, in further violation of Article 7.
Failure to Investigate or Provide Redress for Torture. The government has failed to conduct an impartial, effective and thorough investigation into the repeated torture of Askarov, and has failed to provide him with remedies for that torture, including compensation and medical treatment or rehabilitation, in further violation of Article 7 in conjunction with Article 2(3).
Unlawful and Arbitrary Detention. Askarov’s detention was not in accordance with domestic law, as it was not promptly registered, his family was not informed, and he was not transferred to a proper pre-trial detention facility. It also had no legitimate purpose, and was motivated by his role as a human rights defender and his ethnicity. It was therefore unlawful and arbitrary in violation of Article 9 of the ICCPR, as well as the prohibition against discrimination in Articles 2 and 26. The conditions in which he was detained, in particular in Bazar-Korgon police station, were also inhumane in violation of Article 10.
Violation of Pretrial and Fair Trial Rights. Askarov was denied adequate time and facilities to prepare his defence, particularly the ability to communicate with his counsel, and public officials violated the presumption of innocence by making statements that he was guilty, in violation of Article 14(2) and (3)(b) and (d). The lack of independence and impartiality in Askarov’s trial and subsequent appeal process and the atmosphere of intimidation both at trial and on appeal also violated his rights to a fair hearing, in further violation of Article 14.
Violation of Rights as a Human Rights Defender. The authorities detained and tortured Askarov, and denied him a fair trial, in large part because of his work as a human rights defender in the Kyrgyz Republic, in violation of Articles 9 and 19 of the ICCPR.
In a decision adopted on March 31, 2016 [pdf], the UN Human Rights Committee found that Askarov had been arbitrarily detained, held in inhumane conditions, tortured and mistreated, and prevented from adequately preparing his trial defence.
The Committee found that, in its treatment of Mr Askarov, Kyrgyzstan had violated the following articles of the ICCPR: Article 7 (ban on torture); Article 2.3 (failing to carry out a prompt and effective investigation into torture); Article 9.1 (ban on arbitrary detention); Article 10.1 (inhumane conditions of detention); Article 14.3 (b) and (e) (denial of right to properly prepare defense and to communicate with counsel of own choosing).
The decision instructed Kyrgyzstan to make full reparations to Askarov, including his immediate release.
The Justice Initiative files a new submission as part of the follow-up procedure to the Human Rights Committee on the implementation of its views.
Askarov dies at penal colony №47 a day after being transferred to receive a medical examination. The cause of his death, which occured after he experienced severe symptoms of COVID-19 for two weeks, is recorded as “double pneumonia”.
The Administrative Court of Bishkek refuses to hear the case of Askarov against the Kyrgyz government regarding the implementation of the views of the UN Human Rights Committee. Judge Cholpon Dosmambetova terminates proceedings, noting that the case cannot be subject to administrative processing because the dispute did not arise from administrative relations between the Kyrgyz Government and Askarov.
The Supreme Court of the Kyrgyz Republic upholds Askarov's life sentence.
The Justice Initiative files its submission as part of the follow-up procedure to the Human Rights Committee on the implementation of the Views.
The Chui Oblast court (appeal level) denies Mr Askarov’s request to change his life sentence in light of new amendments to the Criminal Code of Kyrgyzstan.
The court upholds the original life sentence imposed on Mr Askarov in 2010, after a process in which the defendant’s rights were again summarily ignored.
Re-trial held at Chui Oblast court (appeal level)
The Supreme Court sends the case back to the appeal court for further review.
The UN Human Rights Committee adopts a decision finding that Kyrgyzstan had violated Mr Askarov's rights under the ICCPR, and requiring his immediate release.
Communication submitted to UN Human Rights Committee.
Committee to Protect Journalists awards Mr. Askarov a 2012 Press Freedom Award, as one of four journalists who had “risked their lives and liberty to reveal abuses of power and human rights violations”.
The Supreme Court upholds the Appeal Court’s decision and sentence against Mr. Askarov.
People in Need awards Askarov the Homo Homini Award, based on his perseverance “despite threats, detention and imprisonment along with physical abuse.”
The Appeal Court upholds the decision and sentence of the District Court.
District Court finds Askarov guilty of all crimes charged and sentences him to life imprisonment.
Prosecutor files criminal charges against Askarov for incitement of violence, racial hatred, riot, and humiliation of national dignity and honor.
Officers from the Bazar-Korgon police station take Askarov to station, where they detain him without notifying his family and torture him.
Police officer killed in Bazar-Korgon during ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan.
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