The failure of the Supreme Court of Kyrgyzstan to release 65-year old human rights defender and prisoner of conscience Azimjan Askarov is an egregious example of how Kyrgyzstan is failing to implement its international obligations, said Amnesty International.
At an extraordinary review of his case that ended today the Supreme Court did not comply with the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Committee to release Askarov. Instead, the Court cancelled his sentence and referred the case to Chui Regional Court for a new court review. The human rights defender will remain in detention pending his new trial.
“It’s a missed opportunity for Kyrgyzstan to do the right thing by finally releasing a man who should never have been jailed in the first place. Today’s decision by the Supreme Court ignores Kyrgyzstan’s obligations under international human rights law,” said Anna Neistat, Senior Director for Research at Amnesty International, who attended the review on Monday.
“Azimjan Askarov was repeatedly beaten, abused, and denied medical treatment before his trial in 2010 and since, and the charges against him were fabricated and politically motivated. We will continue to campaign for his immediate and unconditional release.”
Askarov, an ethnic Uzbek, was accused of being an accomplice to the murder of a police officer during several days of violence between ethnic Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks that took place in southern Kyrgyzstan in June 2010. Three months later he was sentenced to life imprisonment.
On March 31, 2016, the UN Human Rights Committee urged Kyrgyzstan to immediately release Askarov, recognizing that he had been arbitrarily detained, tortured and denied his right to a fair trial. On June 22 the Supreme Court of Kyrgyzstan announced the decision to review the case of Askarov in light of the committee’s findings.
International and domestic observers, from human rights organizations as well as from diplomatic missions, attended the Supreme Court hearing, some at the direct invitation of the Kyrgyzstani authorities. They hoped the Court would set a precedent by fully complying with the UN Committee’s recommendations. However the Supreme Court did not rule to release Askarov, instead ordering the case to be returned for a new court review. For the 65-year old human rights defender, who should never have been sentenced to prison, this decision could mean many more months or years of humiliation and anguish spent behind bars.
The second day of the review hearing was also attended by a group of ethnic Kyrgyz women and men from southern Kyrgyzstan who were presented to the court as victims of the 2010 crimes that Askarov had been accused of. The presiding judge invited them to speak ignoring any attempts by Askarov's lawyers to intervene. They were also allowed to shout abuse at Askarov's lawyers but were stopped short of physically assaulting them inside the courtroom.
Amnesty International believes Askarov is a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression. Amnesty International is calling on Kyrgyzstan to fully implement the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Committee to provide reparation to Askarov, immediately release him and quash his sentence.