(Berlin) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel should raise serious human rights concerns during talks with President Almazbek Atambaev of Kyrgyzstanon December 11, 2012. Atambaev is scheduled to meet with the chancellor in Berlin during his two-day visit to discuss bilateral cooperation, including in education and health, as well as technical cooperation. President Atambaev is also expected to meet with the German president, Joachim Gauck, and other senior German politicians.
Kyrgyzstan is the only country in Central Asia that has ushered in a parliamentary democracy and has had a peaceful transfer of presidential power. Following the June 2010 inter-ethnic violence that rocked the southern part of the country, with hundreds killed and thousands left homeless, the government made some halting political and rights reforms, such as decriminalizing libel and introducing a national torture prevention mechanism.
Yet grave abuses continue, Human Rights Watch research has shown. Authorities violate fundamental human rights, in particular in the south, where ethnic Uzbeks have been subjected to detention, torture, and extortion schemes without redress in connection with theJune 2010 violence.
“Germany is right to invite the president as a way of encouraging Kyrgyzstan to press on with reforms, but at the same time Berlin should expect the government in Bishkek to uphold its international human rights commitments,” said Hugh Williamson, director of the Europe and Central Asia division at Human Rights Watch. “A good place to start is for Chancellor Merkel to urge Kyrgyzstan to immediately end impunity for torture, uphold the rule of law, and stop harassing human rights defenders.”
In recent months, serious human rights violations have highlighted the urgent need for further rights reform, Human Rights Watch said.
For instance, on October 25, 2012, courts in southern Kyrgyzstan sentencedtwo ethnic Uzbeks to life in prison following unfair trials on charges related to the June 2010 inter-ethnic violence. In one of the cases, an Osh court overturned a milder sentence for Mahamad Bizurukov, an ethnic Uzbek and a Russian citizen, and jailed him for life, despite Bizurukov’s allegations of torture and court hearings that were plagued by physical attacks on Bizurukov and his lawyers.
In November, the National Committee for National Security (GKNB) summoned five human rights defenders and others for questioning after they met with an analyst from the International Crisis Group(ICG), a nongovernmental group, during a trip to the southern part of the country. On November 17, security agents temporarily detained the analyst and subjected him to an illegal search and interrogation. The agents unlawfully confiscated his materials and denied him access to a lawyer. Despite repeated requests, authorities have refused to provide ICG with documentation of any kind regarding the detention and search.
In September, authorities banneda documentary film about gay Muslims that was to be screened during the “One World” human rights film festival in Bishkek, calling it “extremist.” Tolekan Ismailova, a human rights defender who organized the festival, was issued an official warning by the GKNB, which alleged that her actions regarding the screening of the film could incite inter-religious enmity.
“President Atambaev needs to hear that these abuses and harassment of rights defenders have no place in a rights-respecting country, and that efforts to end such abuses are a key component of Kyrgyzstan’s bilateral relations with Germany,” Williamson said.
Kyrgyzstan is still grappling with the consequences of the June 2010 violence, although the situation in the south has largely stabilized. In the last two years, hundreds of mostly ethnic Uzbek defendants have been found guilty and sentenced to prison terms ranging from several years to life, based primarily on confessions that many alleged were coerced under torture. Dozens of trials were seriously flawed byviolationsof the defendants’ rights from the time of detention through conviction.
Following his December 2011 visit to Kyrgyzstan, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, found that torture in places of detention in Kyrgyzstan is “widespread.” Impunity for torture is also pervasive, even in the rare instances in which prosecutorial authorities have opened criminal cases against police officers.
December 20, 2012, will be one year since Kyrgyzstan’s Supreme Court upheld the guilty verdict of Azimjon Askarov, a prominent human rights defender who has worked on documenting police treatment of detainees. He was found guilty of involvement in the gruesome killing of a policeman and injuring several officers during mass disturbances in the southern city of Bazar-Kurgan in June 2010.He remains wrongfully imprisoned after a prosecution marred by serious violationsof fair trial standards, allegations by Askarov and the other defendants that they were tortured in custody, and violence and threats against the defendants by the victim’s relatives, Human Rights Watch found.
“The human rights defender Azimjon Askarov should not be languishing in prison,” Williamson said. “Chancellor Merkel can help address this injustice by raising his case with President Atambaev.”