For the last eight and a half years, Azimjon Askarov, a 68-year-old human rights defender from Kyrgyzstan, has not been able to embrace his wife, play with his grandkids, or enjoy Iftar feasts with friends and family during the holy month of Ramadan. Askarov has spent these years wrongfully and unjustly imprisoned. His continued detention is a deep stain on Kyrgyzstan’s human rights record.
Kyrgyz authorities detained Askarov in June 2010, following a deadly outbreak of ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan. Over four days, hundreds of people were killed and nearly two thousand homes were destroyed in southern Kyrgyzstan. Askarov documented human rights abuses during the violence. Soon after, he was arrested for allegedly participating in the killing of a police officer in Bazar Kurgon, his hometown.
Askarov’s trial was marred by violence and procedural violations. The court refused to investigate Askarov’s credible allegations of torture in detention. Despite the abject denial of a fair trial, the court sentenced Askarov to life imprisonment, and his sentence was upheld on appeal.
In January 2017, after Askarov’s case was reopened for consideration following the adoption of a March 2016 decision by the UN Human Rights Committee, the court again handed down a life sentence. Yet the committee had ruled that Askarov had been arbitrarily detained, tortured in custody, and denied a fair trial, and obligated Kyrgyzstan to “immediately” release him and quash his conviction.
That was nearly three years ago, and still the Kyrgyz government is ducking its responsibility to free Askarov.
Kyrgyzstan turning a blind eye to his suffering will not make his case go away. As long as Askarov remains jailed, we and others will continue to bear witness to his imprisonment and call for his release.
And we will call on Kyrgyzstan’s international partners to do the same. The European Union, which is currently negotiating enhanced relations with Kyrgyzstan, should use this opportunity to stress that closer relations will be tied to Askarov’s timely release. It’s time for Kyrgyzstan to set Askarov free.