(Berlin) – A United Nations Committee has called for Kyrgyzstan to release a human rights defender, Azimjon Askarov, and to quash his conviction, Human Rights Watch said today. In a ruling published on April 21, 2016, the UN Human Rights Committee found that Askarov, who is serving a life sentence, was arbitrarily detained, held in inhumane conditions, tortured, and otherwise mistreated without redress and was not given a fair trial.
“Kyrgyzstan shouldn’t wait another day to release Azimjon Askarov, who has been languishing in prison for six years,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The committee’s decision offers Kyrgyzstan the opportunity to finally right this grave wrong.”
Askarov, 64, is a human rights defender from southern Kyrgyzstan. For years he worked as the director of Air, a local human rights organization, and focused on documenting prison conditions and police treatment of detainees. Askarov also documented violence and looting in the town of Bazar-Korgon during an eruption of violence in southern Kyrgyzstan in June 2010.
Police arrested Askarov that month for “organizing mass disturbances” and “inciting interethnic hatred” leading to the killing of a policeman in Bazar-Korgon. In September 2010, the Bazar-Korgon District Court found Askarov guilty and sentenced him to life in prison. His conviction was upheld on appeal, despite his credible allegations of ill-treatment and torture, as well as attacks on his lawyer and hostility and violence in the courtroom that undermined his right to a fair trial.
Since Askarov’s arrest, local and international human rights entities have expressed serious concern about the handling of the investigation and trial. But the Kyrgyz authorities have not carried out an independent and impartial review of his case.
In November 2012, Nurbek Toktokunov, Askarov’s lawyer, and the Open Society Justice Initiative jointly filed a complaint with the Human Rights Committee that several of Askarov’s rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) had been violated. Kyrgyzstan is a party to the treaty and has accepted the competence of the committee, which reviews compliance with the treaty, to determine whether the government has violated the covenant, and to provide an effective remedy if the committee determines that a violation has occurred.
The committee adopted its decision on March 31, 2016, after an in-depth multi-year review and exchange of views with both Askarov’s lawyer and the Kyrgyzstan government.
The committee found that Askarov’s rights to a fair trial, to be treated with dignity in detention, not to be subjected to ill-treatment or torture, and not to be arbitrarily detained had all been violated. It concluded that in order to provide Askarov with an effective remedy, Kyrgyzstan must take appropriate steps to immediately release Askarov and quash his conviction. It also held that Kyrgyzstan has to provide Askarov, whose health has suffered in prison, with adequate compensation, and if necessary could conduct a new trial subject to the principles of fair hearings.
Article 41 of Kyrgyzstan’s Constitution guarantees Kyrgyz citizens the right to appeal to international human rights bodies, and in the case of a violation of their rights, says that Kyrgyzstan will take “measures for their rehabilitation and reparation.”
“Askarov’s case is undoubtedly controversial in Kyrgyzstan,” Williamson said. “The committee’s decision – based on an independent assessment of the facts – offers a resolution, and allows freedom for Askarov.”