(Osh) - A series of attacks - three this week alone - against people associated with the defense in trials related to the June violence in southern Kyrgyzstan are depriving the accused of their right to a fair trial and undermining justice for victims, Human Rights Watch said today. Aggrieved relatives of victims have threatened and attacked defendants and their relatives, lawyers, journalists, independent trial monitors, and even judges before, during, and after court sessions.
In the latest incident, on October 13, 2010, an angry crowd attacked a defendant and three relatives of another defendant, all ethnic Uzbeks, in Osh just before the trial was supposed to start. All four had to seek medical treatment.
"The wounds from the June violence are still deep and raw," said Ole Solvang, emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Fair trials can help heal those wounds, but mob justice and fundamentally flawed investigations will only make things worse."
Human Rights Watch, which has monitored several of the trials, called on the Kyrgyz authorities to take immediate measures to ensure security at these trials and to end other violations connected with the investigation into the June violence.
For four days in June, massive inter-ethnic violence engulfed several cities in southern Kyrgyzstan, resulting in the death of at least 400 people, ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks alike, and the destruction of more than 2,000 houses, most of them owned by ethnic Uzbeks. The Kyrgyz authorities have opened more than 4,000 criminal investigations into the violence, and trials against alleged perpetrators were under way by August.
Today's attack, which a Human Rights Watch researcher witnessed, took place outside the compound where the trial concerning the murder of an ethnic Kyrgyz traffic policeman was supposed to start. An angry crowd of about 20 men and two women were waiting outside the compound. As 50-year-old Sukhbatullo Nizamkhojaev, one of the defendants, approached, the crowd ran toward him, punched and kicked him, and continued to beat him after he fell to the ground. Two policemen standing close by did not intervene. The beating stopped only when Nizamkhojaev's lawyer called for help from three soldiers staffing the entrance to the compound. The lawyer took Nizamkhojaev to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with two broken ribs.
Shortly thereafter, the crowd attacked three relatives of another defendant as they prepared to enter the compound to observe the trial. The three, in their 50's and 60's, sustained various injuries including concussions, a broken rib, and numerous bruises and wounds and had to seek medical help. The crowd also punched a foreign journalist in the face and pushed an international observer who had arrived to follow the trial. The trial was postponed.
The incident follows a pattern of attacks before, during, and after trials into the June violence. Often, police and military officers standing nearby have done little or nothing to intervene. The aggressive atmosphere during the trials undermines the defendants' right to a fair trial and efforts to provide justice for the victims, Human Rights Watch said.
On October 12, Human Rights Watch was present at a murder appeals hearing at the Osh Provincial Court at which the victim's relatives kicked a defense witness, shouted at and hit relatives of the defendant during a recess, and clashed with the defendants' relatives in the hallway immediately after the trial. Three policemen present during the hearing did nothing to intervene, and there were no guards in the hallway or waiting room. One court employee told Human Rights Watch that there had been guards there before the country's parliamentary election on October 10, but that the guards had since been removed.
On October 11, Human Rights Watch was also present when the judge in a murder trial in Osh Municipal Court was forced to suspend a hearing after relatives of the victim started shouting and tried to attack the defendants, who had declared themselves only partially guilty. Immediately afterward, relatives of the victim hit the mother of one of the defendants and pulled her hair on the court's premises. Several police officers were there but did not intervene.
Lawyers, defendants' relatives, and judges described several other similar incidents to Human Rights Watch, including a trial hearing on September 30 at which relatives attacked and chased a lawyer out of court when he complained that the defendants had been beaten. Human Rights Watch has previously reported on similar incidents during the first trials related to the June violence.
One lawyer described how the hostile atmosphere during a trial prevented her from asking a witness important questions.
"I needed to ask one of the key prosecution witnesses a lot of questions about why he was implicating my client," she said. "I wanted to ask him whether he had been beaten into giving testimony because his testimony in court was very different from his initial one. In the end there were many questions that I did not ask."
The attacks also make defense lawyers reluctant to call witnesses, Human Rights Watch said. One lawyer told Human Rights Watch that she had decided to provide written testimony instead of calling a witness because she was afraid the witness would be attacked. At least two lawyers have refused to take on cases because of threats against them or their family.
Two judges acknowledged in conversations with Human Rights Watch that the attacks and aggressive atmosphere hamper lawyers' ability to defend their clients and negatively impact the defendants' right to a fair trial.
"How can you expect lawyers and judges to do their job properly when they are constantly under threat of violent attack," Solvang said. "The authorities need to take immediate measures to ensure security, or they are making a mockery of their own judicial process."
During a meeting with lawyers, nongovernmental organizations, and law-enforcement agencies in September, Kyrgyzstan's leader, Roza Otunbayeva, ordered law-enforcement agencies to ensure the safety of lawyers and defendants during trials. Despite the president's instructions, law-enforcement authorities for the most part have failed to intervene to end violence against relatives in the trials monitored by Human Rights Watch, although in some cases they have taken measures to protect defendants.
Human Rights Watch has documented a range of other violations in the context of the investigation into the June violence, such as widespread use of arbitrary arrests, torture and ill-treatment.
In July, the Permanent Council of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) reached an agreement to send 52 international police officers to Kyrgyzstan to train local police and monitor the situation. The deployment has so far been blocked by the Kyrgyz government, which cited fears that the police force would be a destabilizing element during the period before the October 10 parliamentary election.
"With the election over, the new Kyrgyz coalition government should make sure the OSCE police unit can start work on the ground as soon as possible," Solvang said. "These continued attacks demonstrate that there is a greater need than ever for objective monitoring and training."