It’s been four years since violent ethnic clashes broke out in southern Kyrgyzstan, and for many, time has moved on. These days, walking down the main streets of Osh, the largest city in southern Kyrgyzstan, you wouldn’t think that burned-out houses and businesses, checkpoints, military vehicles, or graffiti of ethnic slurs marred the city’s landscape back then. But certainly not everyone feels that everything is back to normal.
Especially not Mahamad Bizurukov. He continues to live the horrors of the June 2010 violence, and his case epitomizes the serious problems that marred investigations and trials in the aftermath of those events.
A 36-year old ethnic Uzbek from Osh, Bizurukov has for the last three years languished in a temporary detention facility while his case has ping-ponged its way through Kyrgyzstan’s courts. His case is one of the last June 2010-related trials still going on in Kyrgyzstan.
Bizurukov was arrested in June 2011 on charges of “unlawful deprivation of freedom” for his alleged role in the killing of an ethnic Kyrgyz man in June 2010. He was also charged with murder.
Bizurukov alleged that police operatives had tortured him to coerce a confession. The response of the local prosecutor’s office was the same as in virtually every other June 2010-related case that Human Rights Watch documented torture or ill-treated in detention — a refusal to investigate.
Bizurkov was found guilty on both charges and was sentenced to life in prison after a protracted trial and appeals process. In February 2013, the Supreme Court overturned the verdict and called for a retrial, but there have been repeated delays in his case since then.
What has stood out in Bizurukov’s case, although also common to many of the June 2010-related trials, has been the violence and atmosphere of hostility in the courtroom.
In September 2011, soon after Bizurukov’s trial began, a colleague of mine saw the deceased’s relatives throw rocks and plastic bottles at Bizurukov in the courtroom, all the while screaming and insulting him. They threatened Bizurukov’s lawyer, and one of the women grabbed her by the hair. After the hearing, when the judges had abandoned the courtroom and police failed to maintain order, the women turned their attention to my colleague, threatened her, and then forced her from the courtroom, where Bizurukov was still locked up in a cage.
In June 2013, I attended another of Bizrukov’s hearings. The same relatives were there. They spat at Bizurukov, threw their shoes at him, threatened and insulted him. After the hearing, one of the women noticed me taking notes. She hit me in the arm, shouted aggressively at me, and asked whether I thought this was a circus. At a more recent hearing in January 2014, the women screamed, threatened, and insulted Bizurukov and his lawyer.
Although courts have sometimes provided additional security officers in response to the violent attacks, none of the women responsible have received more than a mild reprimand from the courts.
It would be easy to mock the judiciary’s mishandling of this case but for the fact that Bizurukov has been languishing in temporary detention for so long.
It is not too late for the Bishkek court currently considering Bizurukov’s case to put an end to this hostility and violence, and to ensure that he gets a fair trial this time around. Bizurukov’s next hearing is scheduled for June 16.
The judges can insist on order in the courtroom, and call for prosecution if there is any further violence. They can also order an investigation into Bizurukov’s allegations of torture – yes, even now. Most important, if the judges find there is not enough evidence to prove Bizurukov criminally responsible, they should release him.
The Kyrgyz government could also take the long overdue step of conducting independent reviews of all June 2010-related cases that were marred by allegations of torture and ill-treatment, gross procedural violations, or hostility and violence in the courtroom. For the many people in prison after profoundly flawed investigations and trials, there is not another day to lose.
Mihra Rittmann is a Europe and Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch.