Amnesty International Press Release
For Immediate Release
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Amnesty International Demands the Release of Ethnic Uzbek Activist
Jailed for Life on Fabricated Charges
Contact: AIUSA media relations office, 202-509-8194
(Washington, D.C.) — Amnesty International is calling for the immediate and unconditional release of an ethnic Uzbek human rights activist convicted of involvement in the murder of a policeman during the June violence in Kyrgyzstan.
“The charges against Azimzhan Askarov were fabricated to target him for his legitimate work as human rights defender and he must be released immediately,” said Andrea Huber, Europe and Central Asia deputy program director at Amnesty International.
Azimzhan Askarov, director of the human rights organization Vozdukh (Air), was sentenced today to life imprisonment and the confiscation of his property after an unfair trial by the Nooken district court in southern Kyrgyzstan.
He was also convicted on charges of “attempting to participate in hostage taking,” “storage of ammunition,” “storage of extremist literature,” “inciting ethnic hatred” and “organizing mass disorder."
The activist had filmed and photographed killings and arson attacks on mostly Uzbek homes, allegedly capturing the involvement of security forces in the June violence in Bazar-Korgan, before being detained by police on June 15.
Six men and one woman were tried alongside him on a range of charges, from involvement in the murder to “organizing mass disorder” in Bazar-Korgan, where the police officer was killed on June 13 by a crowd that had staged a roadblock on a highway leading into the southern city.
Four of them were also sentenced to life imprisonment and the confiscation of property; three were sentenced to prison terms ranging from nine to 20 years.
Azimzhan Askarov and three of the other defendants appeared at the September 6 hearing with visible bruises on their faces which had not been visible at a previous hearing, suggesting they had been beaten while in custody.
Human rights monitors also noted other irregularities during the trial. In breach of fair trial procedure, Azimzhan Askarov’s lawyer was reportedly denied a request to meet with him, while others present in the court, mainly police and relatives of the murdered police officer, were allowed to address questions to the defendants at random. Relatives of the murdered officer had previously assaulted the lawyers in the courtroom.
“The trial against Azimzhan Askarov was blatantly unfair," said Huber. "Any appeal against the verdict must be heard outside of southern Kyrgyzstan to ensure his safety and that of his lawyers."
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 2.8 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.