UN Human Rights Committee urges Kyrgyzstan to release jailed human rights defender Azimjan Askarov and quash his conviction
Azimjan Askarov is a prominent human rights defender in Kyrgyzstan and founder of the human rights organisation Vozdukh. He has worked to investigate and report cases of police abuse and poor prison conditions. On 15 September 2010, Askarov was sentenced to life imprisonment on trumped up charges of organising mass riots, instigating ethnic hatred and being involved in the murder of a policeman. He was arrested on 16 June 2010, following violent clashes between ethnic Kyrgyzs and Uzbeks in south Kyrgyzstan, in which more than 400 people were killed.
According to the UNHRC statement, Askarov was arbitrarily detained, held in inhumane conditions, tortured, mistreated, and unable to get proper treatment for serious medical conditions. Authorities also failed to carry out an immediate, effective and impartial investigation into Askarov’s allegations of torture.
The Committee found that Kyrgyz authorities prevented Askarov from adequately preparing his trial defence, as the human rights defender and his lawyer were not allowed to meet in private. It also reports that relatives of the deceased police officer attacked his lawyer, creating “a general sense of fear, incompatible with the proper execution of the defence lawyer’s functions”. Additionally, the lawyer could not attend the first date of the trial, on 2 September 2010, because the court did not notify him on time.
The UNHCR found that the Kyrgyz government violated several articles of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Kyrgyzstan ratified in 1994. By ratifying the Optional Protocol to the ICCPR Kyrgyzstan recognised the competence of the Committee to make findings on whether there has been a violation and to make recommendations.
The statement concluded that Kyrgyzstan should:
1. Immediately release Azimjan Askarov
2. Quash Azimjan Askarov's conviction and, if necessary, conduct a new trial, subject to the principles of fair hearings, presumption of innocence and other procedural safeguards
3. Provide Azimjan Askarov with adequate compensation. Kyrgyzstan is also under an obligation to take steps to prevent similar violations occurring in the future.
On 22 April 2016*, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) published a statement to welcome the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC)'s decision on Azimjan Askarov's case. Michael Georg Link, ODIHR Director, said: “Kyrgyzstan now has an opportunity to correct this injustice, restoring both Mr. Askarov’s rights and its national human rights record in this regard. Freeing him will also send a strong signal to law enforcement and judicial actors in Kyrgyzstan that the rule of law must be upheld equally for all citizens.”
On the same date, the European Union External Action's spokeperson said that the EU “expects the Kyrgyz Republic to fully implement the recommendations of the Human Rights Committee”.
Front Line Defenders welcomes the UNHCR ruling and calls on the Kyrgyz authorities to follow the Committee's recommendations, release human rights defender Azimjan Askarov and quash his conviction.
* This article was amended on 25 April 2016.