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The Kyrgyzstan Supreme Court will hear a petition on July 11, 2016 to release Azimjon Askarov, a long-imprisoned human rights defender, and quash his conviction, Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Askarov and his lawyers are bringing the petition to require the government to carry out an April 21 ruling by the UN Human Rights Committee, which found that Askarov had been arbitrarily detained, held in inhumane conditions, and denied a fair trial. The Kyrgyz authorities are obligated to carry out the UN ruling, the organizations said. The Human Rights Committee also found that Askarov, who is serving a life sentence, had been tortured, and otherwise mistreated without redress.

Azimjan Askarov in an undated photograph before his imprisonment.

“The authorities should have released Askarov already and are ignoring their obligations by keeping him locked up,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The proceedings before the Supreme Court offer Kyrgyzstan’s authorities the opportunity to do the right thing, and they should fully support the request to the court to carry out the UN decision.”

Askarov, 65, has been in prison for almost six years following his arrest and subsequent conviction, in September 2010, for “organizing mass disturbances” and “inciting interethnic hatred” leading to the killing of a policeman in Bazar-Kurgan. His sentencing followed a period of interethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan in June 2010.

An investigation by the Committee to Protect Journalists found that Askarov’s conviction was retaliation for his years of work reporting and documenting law enforcement corruption and human rights abuses in southern Kyrgyzstan, which had ended careers and embarrassed local officials time and again. The conviction was challenged at the time by Kyrgyzstan’s own ombudsman’s office.

Askarov’s trial was marred by his credible allegations of ill-treatment and torture, as well as attacks on his lawyer and hostility in the courtroom that undermined his right to a fair trial.

In November 2012, Askarov’s lawyers filed a complaint with the Human Rights Committee under the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Kyrgyzstan is a party. The Human Rights Committee found that Kyrgyzstan’s treatment of Askarov violated multiple rights protected by the ICCPR and called on it to release him immediately and quash his conviction.

Article 41 of Kyrgyzstan’s constitution provides that it should carry out decisions of international human rights bodies, including the Human Rights Committee. The Criminal Procedure Code gives the Supreme Court powers to “cancel the [original] verdict and close the case when a new investigation or a new trial is not necessary for a final decision on the case.”

In the months since the Human Rights Committee issued its decision, Kyrgyz authorities have not taken their own steps to enforce the decision. They should support Askarov’s application to the Supreme Court and not try to prevent the court from quashing the verdict, thus bringing an end to this miscarriage of justice, Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists said.

No matter what the Supreme Court rules in its upcoming hearing, the authorities have an obligation to take the necessary steps to ensure that the Human Rights Committee’s decision is carried out in full and that Askarov’s imprisonment comes to an immediate end, Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists said.

“Kyrgyzstan has to abide by the Human Rights Committee’s decision to release Askarov without delay,” said Nina Ognianova, Europe and Central Asia program coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists. “Selective implementation of the decision or further stalling is not acceptable. Now is the time to act.”

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