Freedom House Condemns Unjust Sentencing of Kyrgyz Human Rights Defender
Freedom House condemns the sentencing today of leading human rights defender Azimzhan Askarov to life in prison on the spurious charges of “arousing national hatred and organizing mass disorder” during an outbreak of violence that swept across the south of Kyrgyzstan in June of this year.
Mr. Askarov claimed to have captured video footage of militiamen opening fire on unarmed civilians during the unrest. Askarov was detained without charges for three days following an illegal search of his home, although Kyrgyz law requires that individuals be released within two days if charges have not been brought. Photographs obtained by Askarov’s lawyer show bruises on his back indicating that he may have been tortured during detention. During the trial itself, Mr. Askarov’s relatives were refused entry into the courtroom, and angry members of the crowd verbally and physically attacked both defendants and defense lawyers at the trial while court monitors stood idly by.
"As Kyrgyzstan prepares for an historic election and the first opportunity for a truly free and fair election in decades, Askarov’s conviction and sentencing could leave an indelible mark on the recent steps the country has taken towards democracy," said Paula Schriefer, Freedom House acting executive director. "Reviewing this most troubling situation would present the new government with a chance to prove its genuine commitment to human rights and transparency."
The June violence in Kyrgzystan greatly destabilized the already tenuous socio-political fabric in a nation that had seen tremendous erosion in political rights and civil liberties under the rule of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.The Otunbayeva government has made significant reform efforts in the lead-up to the parliamentary elections, scheduled for October 10, including the appointments of a new head of the Supreme Court, a new Prosecutor General and other key positions within the last 24 hours.
Kyrgyzstan is ranked Not Free in Freedom in the World 2010, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2010.
For more information on Kyrgyzstan, visit:
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