(New York) - The Kyrgyz authorities should immediately investigate a new assault on a group of defendants, including a well known human rights defender, and take steps to protect them, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to the Kyrgyz authorities. The authorities should transfer the defendants, in a case stemming from ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan in June, to a safe detention facility and take other steps to ensure their safety and rights, Human Rights Watch said.
In September, the defendants were convicted of killing a police officer from Bazar-Kurgan on June 13, 2010. Their trial has been marred by threats and violence against them and their lawyer. The most recent attack was on November 4, after an appeal hearing. After the hearing, most of the defendants were transferred to the Bazar-Kurgan district police station, where the police officer worked.
"The Kyrgyz authorities have time and again promised to ensure security at trials, but this new attack is inconsistent with those promises," said Ole Solvang, emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch. "The authorities need to take concrete steps, starting with moving the defendants out of the police station controlled by the killed officer's colleagues."
The lack of security has become a serious issue during trials regarding the June violence, posing a significant threat to defendants' right to a fair trial and victims' right to justice.
Human Rights Watch called on the Kyrgyz authorities to transfer the defendants immediately to a safe detention facility, conduct medical examinations to determine the extent of their injuries, and open a criminal investigation. Human Rights Watch also urged the authorities to transfer all remaining legal proceedings regarding the defendants outside southern Kyrgyzstan to a location where they can receive an impartial hearing.
Two people who observed the hearing on November 4, but were told to leave the court before the defendants, told Human Rights Watch that when the eight defendants were led out of the court, some of them were holding their heads, as if in pain, and one had blood on his face, indicating that they might have been beaten after the hearing and before they left the courthouse.
As police officers led the defendants to a vehicle, the people standing outside said the officers kicked and hit at least one of the defendants in the back. The police then transported the defendants to the Bazar-Kurgan district police station. Lawyers for the defendants immediately informed the Bazar-Kurgan prosecutor's office of the suspected assault and asked the prosecutor's office to arrange for medical examinations of the defendants when they arrived at the station. It is unclear whether medical examinations took place.
Relatives of the murdered police officer also threatened to kill at least one of the lawyers during a break in the appeal proceedings, people who witnessed the episode said. A judge later ordered one of the relatives to leave the courtroom because of interruptions, but she refused and was allowed to remain until the end of the hearing.
The defendants include Azimzhan Askarov, the director of Air, a local human rights organization, who had been active in the Jalal-Abad province human rights network called Justice. For several years his work focused on documenting prison conditions and police treatment of detainees.
The investigation and trial in this murder case have been marred by threats and violence. Relatives of the police officer who was killed have attacked Askarov's lawyer, both outside and in court, often in the presence of police officers or on government premises. There are also strong indications that the defendants, and in particular Askarov, have been ill-treated while in custody.
On September 15, the Bazar-Kurgan District Court sentenced Askarov and four of his co-defendants to life in prison, two others to 20 years, and one to nine years. The next appeals hearing will be on November 10, after which the court's decision will be announced.
Human Rights Watch expressed concern about the safety and well-being of the defendants who are in the custody of the police at the station where the police officer who was killed worked.
"Justice must be done for the heinous murder of the police officer in June," Solvang said. "But keeping murder suspects in the custody of the dead person's colleagues is an invitation for abuse."