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In UN complaint, Azimjon Askarov seeks justice, freedom

Lawyers for imprisoned investigative reporter Azimjon Askarov, who is serving a life term in Kyrgyzstan on charges widely seen as politically motivated, filed an appeal today with the U.N. Human Rights Committee that seeks his release.

Askarov's lawyer, Nurbek Toktakunov, and a team of experts from the Open Society Justice Initiative filed a 115-page complaint with the U.N. body. The document, Askarov vs. Kyrgyz Republic, describes in detail what Justice Initiative Executive Director James A. Goldston called a "textbook case of denial of justice" that included Askarov's arbitrary arrest amid the country's June 2010 ethnic conflict, his repeated beatings at the hands of Kyrgyz police, the filing of fabricated criminal charges, a trial that was biased and politicized, and a climate of intense intimidation that prevented defense witnesses from testifying.

"I am appealing to the United Nations because of the appalling lack of the rule of law in Kyrgyzstan; the authorities just disregard the Constitution," Askarov said in a statement made through his lawyer in Bishkek. "I am just one of the many people imprisoned after arbitrary detention, torture, and unfair trial."

Domestic courts have denied appeals filed by Askarov, but his imprisonment has been challenged by the Kyrgyz government's own human rights ombudsman, as well as U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay and U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Méndez.

Today's complaint asks the U.N. body to seek Askarov's immediate release and the reversal of his conviction, along with a full medical examination and treatment. The journalist has suffered the effects of torture and substandard prison conditions. Last month, prison authorities told defense lawyers that Askarov had been diagnosed with heart disease.

The complaint also asks for the creation of a commission of inquiry to investigate the circumstances of Askarov's detention and torture, and to review all other convictions related to the 2010 violence.

Our own special report on Askarov's case--based on CPJ research and materials made available by the Justice Initiative--lists similar recommendations for both Kyrgyz authorities and the international community, including the UN Human Rights Committee.

Next week, CPJ will honor Askarov with its International Press Freedom Award. To bring attention to the case, CPJ is also gathering names on a petition seeking his release. In his work, Askarov had exposed numerous human rights abuses and miscarriages of justice over many years. CPJ concluded that authorities mounted a criminal case of incitement to violence as a means of silencing his critical reporting.

"I feel the need to let the international community know about the injustice that is still ravaging my country," Askarov said in his statement.

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