Kyrgyzstan: Supreme Court to Hear Case of Human Rights Defender Azimjan Askarov on May 13
Paris - Geneva - Bishkek, May 12, 2020 - After 10 years of unjust detention, journalist and human rights defender Azimjan Askarov faces the final hearing before the Supreme Court of Kyrgyzstan on May 13. Sentenced to life in prison due to his human rights work, Mr. Askarov was arrested on trumped-up charges that included incitement to ethnic hatred and complicity in the murder of a police officer. Despite the 2016 United Nations Human Rights Committee ruling calling for Mr. Askarov’s immediate release, and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, he remains in prison while his health deteriorates. The Observatory (FIDH-OMCT), Bir Duino-Kyrgyzstan human rights movement, and Kylym Shamy human rights centre call upon the authorities in Kyrgyzstan to immediately release the human rights defender.
On Wednesday May 13, 2020 at 2 p.m. Kyrgyzstan’s Supreme Court will consider the cassation complaint of journalist and human rights defender Azimjan Askarov on the verdict of the Chui Oblast Court from January 24, 2017, which upheld his life sentence. Human rights groups, European Union and United Nations experts have advocated for his release for the past decade. Earlier this month, ahead of World Press Freedom day, his case was ranked as the most urgent by the One Free Press Coalition. On May 8, Mary Lawlor, the new Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, called for a proper review of Mr Askarov’s appeal in accordance with all the safeguards of a fair trial, and his immediate release. Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the world’s attention is still focused on the injustice committed by the authorities in his case. The Observatory (FIDH-OMCT), Bir Duino-Kyrgyzstan human rights movement, and Kylym Shamy human rights centre hope that Kyrgyzstan will finally ensure Mr. Askarov’s right to a fair trial and free him.
“It is shameful for the Kyrgyz Republic that the innocent 68-year-old journalist and human rights defender continues languishing behind bars. The last time I visited him in prison, it struck me how old and weak he had become, his health greatly deteriorated. It is heartbreaking to see him—at high risk due to his declining health and having endured torture—losing hope for a fair trial and release,” said Tolekan Ismailova, FIDH Vice-President and President of Bir Duino-Kyrgyzstan.
Mr. Askarov was convicted of “participation in mass riots”, “inciting ethnic hatred” and “complicity in the killing of a police officer” during the ethnic tensions in 2010. The investigation and the subsequent trial of Mr. Askarov were marred with violations of due process and fair trial rights. Mr. Askarov’s credible allegations that he had been tortured in pre-trial detention were never properly investigated. His conviction was upheld after several appeals, including by the Supreme Court. In 2016, the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) called on the Kyrgyz authorities to immediately release Mr. Askarov, quash his unfair sentence and ensure adequate compensation for the wrongful conviction.
“The UNHRC further found that Azimjan Askarov had been subjected to torture and the authorities failed to properly investigate this. Although the Committee called for his immediate release, Azimjan continues to languish behind bars. We hope that Kyrgyzstan will live up to the expectations of the international community and finally implement the Committee’s decision,” concluded Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General.
Several hearings on Askarov’s case are currently ongoing in courts: the Bishkek Inter-District Court was to consider yesterday Askarov’s complaint on inaction of the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic regarding the execution of the UNHRC’s Decision in 2016. Yesterday, in the Bishkek Inter-District Court, Judge Dosmambetova announced to the representatives of the Askarov’s defence that the Court was dissolved on May 8, 2020, and therefore cannot consider the case. The consideration of the case was thus postponed until the authorities determine which court will examine the case.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.