Kubatbek Kalbekovich Baibolov
Prosecutor General of Kyrgyzstan
Cc: Interim leader, Roza Otunbaeva
Dear Mr. Baibolov,
I am writing to urge you to take immediate action to ensure the safety and well-being of several defendants in a murder case related to the June violence and to launch an investigation into allegations of abuse.
According to eyewitnesses, several defendants were apparently beaten as they were leaving the Nooken District Court on November 4 after an appeal hearing in their case, which concerns the June 13 murder of an officer from the Bazar-Kurgan district police. Two eyewitnesses reported that when the defendants were led out of the courtroom they were holding their heads, as if in pain, and one defendant had blood on his face, indicating that they might have been beaten while they were still in the courthouse. The eyewitnesses had been asked to leave the court before the defendants exited, so they did not see how the defendants sustained the injuries. As police officers led the defendants from the court to a vehicle, they kicked and hit at least one of the defendants in the back. The police escort then transported the defendants to the Bazar-Kurgan district police station. The defendants' lawyers immediately informed the Bazar-Kurgan prosecutor's office of the suspected ill-treatment and requested that it conduct a medical examination of the defendants upon their arrival at the station. It is unclear whether the Bazar-Kurgan prosecutor's office arranged such an examination.
I am also extremely concerned about the safety and well-being of the defendants while they are in custody with the Bazar-Kurgan police. As noted above, the defendants have been convicted of killing a police officer from this station, in addition to other crimes. Human Rights Watch researchers have personally documented the hostile attitude of that district's police officers towards the defendants when our researchers visited the station in June; several police-officers used derogatory terms about the defendants, and one said that they should be executed.
On at least two occasions lawyers and others have observed physical marks on the bodies of the defendants, and in particular on the body of Azimjan Askarov, one of the defendants. The injuries raise serious concerns that Askarov and others may have been ill-treated while in custody. Local authorities from the Bazar-Kurgan district police station and the Bazar-Kurgan prosecutor's office have on several occasions refused to allow lawyers and defendants private consultations, in violation of Kyrgyz law, which has made it impossible for the defendants to raise issues of ill-treatment in confidence.
In addition to enduring physical violence, the defendants were denied a fair trial.
The trial court heard numerous witnesses for the prosecution, but none for the defense. During the trial, the victim's relatives and supporters threatened and struck Askarov's lawyer, shouted threats and insults at the defense team, and beat defendants' relatives, who were outside the courthouse. Police were present, but they took no action. Askarov's lawyer told Human Rights Watch that in light of these threats and violence, the defense lawyers felt they could not endanger witnesses by calling them to the stand. As you know, on September 15 the trial court sentenced Askarov and four of his co-defendants to life in prison, two others to 20 years, and one to 9 years.
While some steps were taken to improve security conditions for the defendants' appeal, judging by last week's developments, these measures, while welcome, have proven inadequate.
I urgently ask you to undertake measures to ensure the safety and fair trial of the defendants, including:
- Transferring the defendants to a holding facility that is not managed by close colleagues of the murdered police-officer;
- Immediately conducting a medical examination of the defendants, if it has not already been done;
- Requesting an explanation from the Bazar-Kurgan prosecutor's office and take appropriate disciplinary measures if a medical examination was not conducted on November 4;
- Ensuring that all defendants have the opportunity to consult with their lawyers in private;
- Launching a thorough, impartial and prompt criminal investigation into allegations of recent and past allegations of torture and ill-treatment and hold those responsible accountable.
- Transferring all legal proceedings regarding the defendants to a venue outside southern Kyrgyzstan where they can receive an impartial hearing
I would be most grateful if you would inform me about what steps you take in this regards and thank you in advance for your cooperation.
Acting Executive Director
Europe and Central Asia Division