PUBLICATION OF AN INTERNATIONAL JUDICIAL OBSERVATION REPORT
(Geneva, Paris) A Kyrgyz court ruled to uphold human rights defender Azimjan Askarov’s life sentence, after what was a mock retrial falling short of basic fair-trial requirements and running against United Nations recommendations to release him, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (an FIDH-OMCT partnership reported today.
The Chuy Regional Court, which reconsidered Azimjan Askarov’s case in appeal from October 4, 2016 to January 24, 2017, upheld the 2010 verdict which had been issued in a trial marred by a flawed investigation, bias, lack of substantial evidence and allegations of torture and the absence of investigation thereof. In its decision published in April 2016, the UN Human Rights Committee requested the authorities to release Azimjan Askarov and quash his conviction. Neither of the recommendations were brought into effect.
Moreover, the Chuy Regional Court itself, by refusing to hear some defence witnesses, restricting access to the courtroom, failing to investigate credible allegations of torture and ignoring acts of pressure and intimidation targeting defence witnesses and lawyers, failed to guarantee Askarov’s right to a fair trial in accordance with international human rights standards.
“Kyrgyzstan has also made a complete mockery of its international human rights obligations. If this country wants to be a European trading partner it has to be clear to it that it has to behave very differently.”
Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General
Tomorrow, President Atambayev is scheduled to meet with European Union (EU) leaders in Brussels, including EU Foreign Affairs Chief Federica Mogherini, European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, to discuss a new Agreement on Partnership and Cooperation and a Memorandum of Understanding on a 13 million euros worth project aimed at supporting judicial reform in Kyrgyzstan. Shortly after the court’s decision on January 24, 2017, UN bodies and the EU voiced serious concerns over the “serious shortcomings” in Kyrgyzstan’s judicial system, recalling that “full compliance with its international human rights obligations, including the opinions of the UNHRC, is essential to maintain the international standing of the Kyrgyz Republic”.
“The arbitrary character of Azimjam Askarov’s detention is unquestionable. EU leaders must take the opportunity of President Atambayev’s visit to remind him of Kyrgyzstan’s human rights commitments and the need to demonstrate at the highest level the will to support a genuine judicial reform. Support to judicial reform is meaningless if the right to a fair trial is not guaranteed and justice remains vulnerable to political interference.”
Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH Honorary President
Azimjan Askarov is a human rights defender from the South of Kyrgyzstan where he had been investigating police brutality from 2002 to 2010. He was arrested on June 15, 2010, in the immediate aftermath of violent inter-ethnic confrontations opposing Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities. He was charged with participating in mass unrest, inciting ethnic strife, illegal weapons possession, complicity in the murder of police officer Myktybek Suleimanov, attempted murder of other police officers and incitement for taking hostage a mayor. Azimjan Askarov argued that he was not present on the bridge where the attack on Mr. Suleimanov occurred. His claim was corroborated by several testimonies.
From the very beginning of the judicial proceedings in 2010, the case against Azimjan Askarov, built on testimonies extracted under torture and on statements from Kyrgyz police officers whose work had been under the scrutiny of Azimjan Askarov, was marked as politically motivated. As reported by the Observatory in “Kyrgyzstan at a crossroads: shrink or widen the scene for human rights defenders”, Mr. Kubatbek Baybolov, former Prosecutor General at the time of Mr. Askarov’s conviction recounted that Interim President Roza Otunbayeva had instructed the Judiciary to sentence Azimjan Askarov to life imprisonment. He added that the elements in the criminal case failed to demonstrate Mr. Askarov’s guilt.