UN Human Rights Committee Calls on Kyrgyzstan to Release Azimjan Askarov
NEW YORK—The Open Society Justice Initiative is urging Kyrgyzstan to immediately release jailed human rights defender Azimjan Askarov, as required by a ruling made public today by the UN Human Rights Committee (HRC).
Mr Askarov, who turns 65 next month, is Kyrgyzstan’s best-known political prisoner—he is currently serving a life sentence handed down in a manifestly unfair trial following a wave of ethnic violence that erupted in southern Kyrgyzstan in June 2010.
The Committee found that Mr Askarov had been arbitrarily detained, held in inhumane conditions, tortured and mistreated, and prevented from adequately preparing his trial defence. It also called for his immediate release and for his conviction to be quashed, in response to a complaint filed on Mr. Askarov’s behalf by the Justice Initiative and local lawyer Nurbek Toktakunov.
James A. Goldston, executive director of the Justice Initiative said:
“This ruling is a clear indictment of the abuse and mistreatment that Mr. Askarov has been subjected to at the hands of the Kyrgyz authorities since he was first detained. It is imperative that Kyrgyzstan now implements the Committee’s demand for the immediate release of our client, in line with its legal obligations as party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”
“In addition, the authorities should review the convictions of other members of Kyrgyzstan’s Uzbek minority whose trials after the 2010 violence were infected by the same atmosphere of intimidation that grievously tainted this case.”
Nurbek Toktakunov, co-counsel in the case, also welcomed the ruling, saying:
“Kyrgyzstan’s constitution requires the government to implement rulings of the Human Rights Committee and to release Mr Askarov. Kyrgyzstan’s current role as one of 47 elected members of the UN Human Rights Council also underlines its obligation to adhere to its international human rights commitments.”
Having documented human rights violations by the police and prison authorities in his hometown of Bazar-Korgon and other parts of Kyrgyzstan for more than 10 years, Mr Askarov was arrested in the aftermath of the 2010 unrest, and accused of involvement in the death of a local policeman.
The Committee noted that Mr Askarov, an ethnic Uzbek, was initially detained at the police station where the deceased officer was based and that no specific security measures were in place to safeguard him. “The findings of the medical forensic examinations conducted by independent experts are consistent with other evidence suggesting (Mr Askarov) was subjected to acts of torture,” the Committee members wrote in their findings.
Mr Askarov’s trial, alongside seven other defendants, was a mockery of justice. The Committee found that the violence at the trial created “a general sense of fear, incompatible with the proper execution of the defence lawyer’s functions.” It noted that there was also unrefuted evidence that his lawyer was notified too late to attend the first day of trial on 2 September 2010, when the court heard 16 prosecution witnesses. The guarantee to be able to call and question witnesses “is important for ensuring an effective defence by the accused and their counsel,” members stressed.
Kyrgyzstan also failed to carry out a prompt and effective investigation into Mr. Askarov’s allegations of torture, the Committee concluded. A subsequent inquiry in 2013, “while extensive, lacked the element of impartiality, as it interviewed more than 100 law enforcement officers, judges, court clerks and prosecutors but failed to interview (Mr Askarov’s) lawyers, human rights defenders who visited him in prison, and his relatives,” the Committee wrote.
The Committee also said that the conditions in which Mr Askarov was held were inhumane and he was unable to get proper treatment for serious medical conditions.
The Committee, composed of 18 international independent human rights experts, 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).
Kyrgyzstan is obliged to make full reparation to Mr Askarov, the Committee concluded, including his immediate release.
Mr Askarov is recognized as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International. He has also received awards for his work as a journalist and human rights defender from the Committee to Protect Journalists, from People in Need (a Prague-based human rights group), and from the U.S. State Department.