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Kyrgyzstan: Update - Unfair trial and fear of torture of human rights defender Mr Azimjan Askarov
Front Line was represented by an observer at the trial hearing of human rights defender Mr Azimjan Askarov which took place on 6 September 2010 at the regional court at Nooken, a small town near Bazar Korgon in the Jalalabad region of southern Kyrgyzstan. The trial hearing was not in conformity with the Kyrgyz constitution nor with international fair trial standards. The defendant, Azimjan Askarov, showed visible signs of having been beaten.
Azimjan Askarov, who is of Uzbek ethnic origin, is accused of complicity in the murder of a policeman during the ethnic violence which took place in southern Kyrgyzstan in June 2010 but no credible evidence has yet been presented to link him to the murder.
A verdict is expected in the trial on 15 September. The prosecutor in the case has requested that the court impose a life sentence on Azimjan Askarov. Front Line has previously issued several urgent appeals in relation to harassment, intimidation and violent attacks against Azimjan Askarov and his supporters, as well as the suspected torture of Azimjan Askarov in detention.
On 6 September posters were placed on the doors of the courthouse in Nooken demanding the execution of Azimjan Askarov, along with seven other individuals of Uzbek ethnicity who are also accused of involvement in the murder of the policeman. These posters were largely of an anti-Uzbek, racist nature. A Front Line observer who attended the hearing reported that the courtroom was filled with policemen in uniform, along with the family of the deceased policeman and their supporters. When the eight defendants entered the courtroom, the family of the deceased policeman attempted to violently attack them, shouting anti-Uzbek statements, and demanding the execution of the accused. During the hearing, Azimjan Askarov's lawyer, Nurbek Toktakunov, was heckled by supporters of the prosecution, who shouted “You are working for western money, we will kill you. We will kill your family and will eat your children”.
Four of the defendants, including Azimjan Askarov, bore visible traces on their faces of recent beatings, which had not been visible at the previous hearing. Azimjan Askarov had a bruised eye. Nurbek Toktakunov requested that the hearing be deferred to allow him more time to prepare an adequate defence, and petitioned for his client to undergo a thorough medical exam. It was denied. Later, Azimjan Askarov was questioned by the judge and stated that no one had harmed him, and that the bruise had been caused while he was being brought to the courtroom with other defendants on a previous occasion during which he lost his shoe and bumped his head into the back of the other defendant. He refused a medical exam. Attached is a photograph of Azimjan Askarov, taken by his lawyer at the trial, which shows his injuries.
In addition, concerns are expressed regarding breaches of fair trial procedure during the course of the hearing. Nurbek Toktakunov's request to meet with his client was rejected by the Judge. Both the Judge and the Prosecutor noted that the lawyer could meet with his client at the end of the trial process. Members of the audience directed questions from the floor to the defendants during the hearing without being authorised by the Judge to do so. In addition, the accused did not receive a full explanation of their rights and responsibilities.
Azimjan Askarov's relatives and supporters were reportedly intimidated and threatened against attending the hearing. It has been reported that at a previous hearing on 2 September, his relatives were not allowed to enter the courtroom, being pushed out by relatives of the deceased policeman who threatened them not to attempt to attend his trial again.
Front Line remains gravely concerned for the physical and psychological security and integrity of Azimjan Askarov in prison, and for the safety of his relatives and supporters. In particular, allegations of torture and ill-treatment of Aminjan Askarov whilst in detention are extremely worrying, particularly given the decision of Jalalabad City Court on 26 July 2010 to uphold a decision by the General Prosecutor's Office of Jalalabad not to investigate claims that Azimjan Askarov was tortured or ill-treated after his arrest, on the basis that injuries he suffered were inflicted by a cell-mate.
Furthermore, Front Line is gravely concerned regarding violations of due process and the right to a fair and impartial trial, which were observed while attending the hearing. In particular, Front Line draws attention to Article 26 of the Constitution of the Kyrgyz Republic, which provides that "everyone is presumed innocent of committing a crime until his guilt is proved in accordance with law and established by a legally binding court decision", and to Article 31 of the Constitution, which prohibits “advocacy of national, ethnic, racial or religious hatred, gender and other social superiority, calling to discrimination, hostility or violence". Front Line is concerned regarding various breaches of fair trial provisions outlined in Article 18 of the Krygyz Code of Criminal Procedure, regarding "Implementation of the proceedings on the basis of competition and equality of the parties".
Finally, Front Line reminds the Kyrgyz authorities of the criminalisation of "Actions aimed at inciting national, racial or religious hatred, humiliation of national dignity, and propaganda of exclusivity, superiority or inferiority of citizens on the grounds of their religion, nationality or race, if committed publicly or with the use of mass media," under Article 299 of the Penal Code of the Kyrgyz Republic.