Press Release — HRF to Kyrgyzstan: Release Human Rights Defender Azimjan Askarov
Human Rights Foundation (HRF) condemns Kyrgyzstan's failure to implement April's United Nations (UN) resolution, which calls for the release of Azimjan Askarov, a human rights defender and journalist who has been arbitrarily imprisoned since 2010. Last week, the Supreme Court of Kyrgyzstan overturned Askarov’s conviction and ordered a new trial but failed to order his release. Askarov is an award-winning journalist and the recipient of the 2011 Homo Homini Award and the 2012 International Press Freedom Award.
“Azimjan Askarov was detained, tortured, and convicted on fabricated charges for denouncing abuses committed by the police and members of Kyrgyzstan’s judiciary,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen. “The cruel treatment of Askarov and the impunity of the authorities involved in his case are appalling. Kyrgyzstan should immediately and unconditionally release him,” added Halvorssen.
Azimjan Askarov was detained on June 15, 2010, after attempting to document the death and destruction following violent clashes between ethnic groups and the police in southern Kyrgyzstan that resulted in the deaths of both civilians and police officers. Askarov continued his work despite threats, including one made by a local judge who warned Askarov that he was documenting “a state secret” that “nobody should learn about.” On September 15, Askarov was found guilty of eight charges under Kyrgyzstan’s Criminal Code, including “incitement of national, racial, or religious enmity,” “organization of mass riots,” and “complicity to commit murder.” He was sentenced to life in prison during a trial that failed to comply with minimum international due process standards.
A decision issued in April 2016 by the UN Human Rights Committee called on Kyrgyzstan to immediately release the activist after finding that he had been “arbitrarily detained, held in inhumane conditions, tortured and mistreated, and prevented from adequately preparing his trial defense.”
At the time of his arrest, Askarov was the director of Vozdukh (“air” in English), a human rights organization based in southern Kyrgyzstan. Vozdukh documents the country’s poor prison conditions and denounces abuses committed against detainees by state agents. Askarov’s writing included articles highlighting numerous cases of police abuse and misconduct, including instances of rape, beatings, torture, and wrongful convictions. In the years prior to his arrest, his extensive advocacy and journalistic work resulted in the dismissal of prosecutors and the arrest and conviction of police officers.
“According to Article 41(2) of Kyrgyzstan’s constitution, the state is required to take measures to restore and/or compensate for damages in the event that international human rights bodies confirm the violation of the rights and freedoms of citizens,” said Centa B. Rek, international legal associate at HRF. “With its actions, Kyrgyzstan has not only failed to comply with its own constitution, but has also failed to observe its international obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, of which the country is a signatory,” said Rek.