June 17, 2010

Prosecutor General Baitemir Ibraev
Prosecutor General of the Republic of Kyrgyzstan
72 Orozbekova St,
Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan 720000

Dear Prosecutor General Ibraev, 

I am writing to express profound concern about the arrest of Azimjon Askarov, a human rights defender from Bazar Kurgon, and to urge that he be immediately released pending an independent review of any charges against him.

Mr. Askarov is director of Air, a local human rights organization, and is active in the Jalal-Abad District Human Rights Network "Justice." For several years his work has focused on documenting prison conditions and police treatment of detainees.

Police in Bazar Kurgon detained Mr. Askarov on June 15. The Bazar Kurgon district prosecutor's office told Human Rights Watch that Mr. Askarov is accused of a "provocation" which led to the killing of a police officer on June 15. At a press conference on June 17, Azimbek Beknazarov, deputy head of the interim government, said that Askarov was accused of organizing public disorder. 

We are extremely concerned by reports by Mr. Askarov's brother, who was detained together with him and subsequently released, that police beat Mr. Askarov in custody. Aside from his brother, neither Mr. Askarov's family, colleagues, or lawyer of his choosing have had access to him. This isolation heightens our concern that police may have physically harmed him. To date, Mr. Askarov has had access only to state-appointed counsel; a lawyer appointed by "Justice" was ultimately not granted access to him.

We understand that Mr. Askarov had documented violence and looting in Bazar Kurgon that took place following the events in Osh, and documented how police in one location took no action to stop it. It is plausible that police were upset by Mr. Askarov's work and are using the current accusation as a pretext to compel him to turn over evidence of police failure to stop the looting. According to Memorial Human Rights Center, Mr. Askarov's brother said that police demanded that Mr. Askarov tell them the location of the video recorder that he used to document the violence and the film clips he shot.

On the same day that Mr. Askarov was detained, police searched his home, presumably to find his video and other materials. When his wife would not allow them to enter the courtyard they shot at the gates and into the air, eventually gaining access to the home. They returned for another search on June 17.

I urge you to ensure Mr. Askarov's immediate release from custody and to ensure that allegations of beatings are thoroughly investigated and that those responsible for it are held accountable.

I thank you for your attention to the concerns in this letter.

Sincerely,
Holly Cartner

Executive Director
Europe and Central Asia Division

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