Kyrgyzstan: Rights groups urge EU officials to demand release of jailed activist Askarov

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BISHKEK (TCA) — Eight international human rights organizations and media-freedom watchdogs have urged EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini and other EU officials to advocate for the immediate release of Kyrgyz human rights defender Azimjan Askarov from prison, RFE/RL reported.

In a letter sent to EU officials last month and made public on July 1, the groups expressed their “utmost and urgent concern” about the 68-year-old Askarov’s “wrongful imprisonment” and the “deterioration of his health.”

They urged the officials to “advocate with the Kyrgyz government for his immediate release and transfer to a safe third country for medical treatment.”

The call comes ahead of an EU-Central Asia ministerial meeting in Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek, on July 7.

“As the Kyrgyz government is looking to strengthen its ties with the European Union, it is important that authorities in Bishkek demonstrate their commitment to human rights and the rule of law by releasing the unfairly convicted and frail human rights defender,” the eight organizations said in a statement.

The watchdogs included Amnesty International, Civil Rights Defenders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Front Line Defenders, Human Rights Watch, the International Federation for Human Rights, the International Partnership for Human Rights, and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.

Askarov, an ethnic Uzbek who has also contributed to independent news websites, is serving a life sentence after being convicted on what the statement called “trumped-up” charges.

Kyrgyz authorities detained Askarov in June 2010, following a deadly outbreak of ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan’s south. 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, Human Rights Watch said. 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.

Sergey Kwan

TCA