Azimjon Askarov, a 68-year-old human rights activist and journalist from Kyrgyzstan has been wrongfully and unjustly imprisoned for the last eight and a half years. Askarov is Kyrgyzstan’s most prominent political prisoner. He was detained by the Kyrgyz authorities in June 2010 following the outbreak of ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan.
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Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was toppled in the second revolution in April 2010. This was followed in June by a bloody conflict, known as the ‘June events’, which erupted in the country’s south in the ensuing power vacuum.
Askarov’s ordeal is a stark reminder of how Kyrgyzstan eludes facile explanations. He was arrested for allegedly participating in the killing of a police officer in Bazar Kurgon, his hometown. He was one of the dozens of prominent Uzbek community members who were arrested in 2010. Kyrgyz authorities have accused Askarov of inciting a crowd to kill a Kyrgyz police officer, a case built on the testimony of other officers who claimed the journalist had made provocative remarks.
However, Askarov maintains that he took no part in the 2010 clashes. He said he spent most of his time documenting it, taking photographs of victims (both Kyrgyz and Uzbek), made extensive notes and went to the local morgue to identify bodies. He also wrote that he witnessed Kyrgyz police officers shooting ethnic Uzbeks.
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW) Askarov’s case was reopened in 2017 for consideration following the adoption of a March 2016 decision by the United Nations Human Rights Committee. But the court again handed him a life sentence. “Yet the committee had ruled that Askarov had been arbitrarily detained, tortured in custody, and denied a fair trial.” The committee urged Kyrgyzstan to ‘immediately’ release him and quash his conviction. But the Kyrgyz government is ducking its responsibility to free Askarov.
In an open letter to the European Union, the HRW; Amnesty International; Norwegian Helsinki Committee; and International Partnership for Human Rights Amnesty International highlighted that before his arrest, Askarov documented prison conditions and police abuse of detainees. “Askarov was held for days without access to a lawyer in the Bazar Korgon police station.
Kyrgyz authorities have never carried out an investigation into his credible allegations of torture and other ill-treatment. The victim’s relatives threatened and physically attacked Askarov’s lawyer with impunity during a trial that was marred by courtroom violence and procedural violations. In September 2010, Askarov was sentenced to life in prison.”
Human rights activists throughout the world have called on the EU to pressurize Kyrgyzstan to set Askarov free.
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