Askarov Hearing Presents Important Test for Kyrgyz Justice System


Freedom House today calls on Kyrgyz authorities to seize the opportunity posed by the Supreme Court appeal hearings of human rights defender Azimzhan Askarov and seven other ethnic Uzbek citizens of Kyrgyzstan to demonstrate its ability to deliver impartial justice.
Askarov was sentenced last year to life in prison for murder, incitement of racial hatred, and organization of mass disorder. Based on the reports of international observers, both the investigation, the initial trial and the first appeal hearing were plagued by serious procedural violations including credible allegations of torture and inhuman treatment of defendants while in detention, lack of adequate access to legal counsel, and failure to guarantee the safety of witnesses, lawyers, defendants and their relatives. Supreme Court proceedings on the appeals are set to begin today. According to a public opinion survey recently commissioned by Freedom House in Kyrgyzstan, for which 1,500 interviews were conducted across the country, the judicial system is currently less trusted than the parliament, local authorities, security services, the president and the opposition
“To a greater degree than Mr. Askarov, it is actually the state of the Kyrgyz justice system that is on trial,” said Sam Patten, senior program manager at Freedom House. “These proceedings provide a real opportunity for the country to begin to address the concerns about justice that clearly pervade Kyrgyz society.”
There are 4,000 criminal cases related to the June violence currently underway, a significant percentage of which have so far resulted in lengthy prison sentences (largely for ethnic Uzbeks,) including about 40 life sentences. Askarov’s arrest is widely believed to be linked to his peaceful work as a human rights defender and ethnicity. Askarov and his human rights organization “Vozdukh” (Air) have been very active and outspoken in documenting police ill-treatment of detainees and in monitoring the human rights situation in the province of Jalal-Abad. Some believe that the charges against Askarov stem specifically from alleged video footage he recorded during the violent events in the district of Bazar-Korgon in June 2010.
Kyrgyzstan was recently upgraded from Not Free to Partly Free in the Freedom in the World 2011 due to the adoption of a new constitution and genuinely competitive, multiparty parliamentary elections held in October 2010.
Kyrgyzstan is ranked Partly Free in Freedom in the World 2011, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2010.
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights. 
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