Freedom House Calls for Release of Kyrgyz Human Rights Defender Azimjan Askarov
Freedom House denounces the Kyrgyz Supreme Court’s decision on December 20, 2011, to uphold the life sentence for ethnic Uzbek human rights defender Azimjan Askarov and long-term sentences for seven other ethnic Uzbeks, all citizens of Kyrgyzstan. They were convicted in September 2010, of organizing ethnic clashes and involvement in the murder of a policeman.
Based on independent and expert international observers, the investigation, initial trial, and first appeal were plagued by serious procedural violations including credible reports of torture and inhumane treatment of defendants while in detention; lack of adequate access to legal counsel; denial of their right to present witnesses and evidence for their exoneration; and failure to guarantee the safety of witnesses, lawyers, defendants and their relatives.
“The inability and unwillingness of the highest court in Kyrgyzstan to rectify a clear abuse of the judicial process is appalling,” said Susan Corke, Director for Eurasia Programs at Freedom House. “Freedom House calls upon the newly elected President Almaz Atymbaev to issue a pardon to overturn this miscarriage of justice. The international community will continue pressing for Kyrgyzstan to live up to its international commitments to respect the rule of law and human rights.”
Askarov’s arrest is widely believed to have been linked to his peaceful work as a human rights defender, actively documenting and speaking out against police ill-treatment of citizens of Bazar-Korgon for several years. It is also suspected he was targeted due to video footage he allegedly recorded during the violence in June 2010. The video, which reportedly documented Azimjan Askarov in prison in March, 2011 security forces failing to protect ethnic Uzbeks from, and even participating in, ethnic violence,was confiscated by police and later disappeared. The video is said to provide him with a possible alibi for the murder he is charged with.
Kyrgyzstan is ranked Partly Free in Freedom in the World 2011, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, which upgraded Kyrgyzstan from Not Free the previous year due to the adoption of a new constitution and genuinely competitive, multiparty parliamentary elections held in October 2010. The country was ranked Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2011.
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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