CPJ decries charges against journalists in Kyrgyzstan

New York, August 12, 2010–Trumped-up charges of extremism against Ulugbek Abdusalomov, the editor of an independent newspaper, and Azimjon Askarov, a journalist and human rights defender, should be dropped immediately, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Prosecutors in the southern city of Jalal-Abad charged Abdusalomov, editor of the Uzbek-language newspaper Diydor, and Askarov, head of local human rights group Vozdukh and a contributor to the regional news website Voice of Freedom, with extremism, incitement to ethnic hatred, calls to mass disorder, and complicity to murder, according to regional press reports and CPJ sources. Jalal-Abad police arrested both men in mid-June in the aftermath of ethnic violence that engulfed southern Kyrgyzstan in May and early June.

Abdusalomov, currently undergoing treatment for a heart condition at a Jalal-Abad hospital, was formally charged on Tuesday, while Askarov was officially indicted today, the Bishkek-based news agency Aki-Press and the regional news website Voice of Freedom reported. If convicted, both men face lengthy prison terms. Local and international human rights and press freedom groups, including CPJ, have urged Kyrgyz authorities to release Abdusalomov and Askarov, saying that they are being held in retaliation for reporting on the humanitarian crisis and human rights abuses in southern Kyrgyzstan.

“We call on Kyrgyz authorities in Jalal-Abad to drop all charges against Ulugbek Abdusalomov and Azimjon Askarov,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “Abdusalomov and Askarov have only done their public duty of reporting on the violent events in southern Kyrgyzstan.”

In June, the Kyrgyz government said in a statement that Abdusalomov was being held in connection with May 12-15 protests by ethnic Uzbeks in Jalal-Abad. Unrest among the local ethnic Kyrgyz population followed four days later. At the time of the protests, Abdusalomov appears to have been in the capital, Bishkek, participating in meetings of the government-sponsored Constitutional Council. An official transcript of the council meetings, available online, identified Abdusalomov as being involved in the Bishkek meetings. The council was preparing the text of a new Kyrgyz Constitution.

Abdusalomov’s paper had reported on issues facing the Uzbek minority in southern Kyrgyzstan. In particular, defense lawyer Bektuson Kalmanov said, the paper had published a piece examining the social and political disadvantages facing the Uzbek community. 

Askarov was indicted in relation to June 13 unrest that led to the death of a police officer in the Jalal-Abad region, Aki-Press reported. Citing a statement by the prosecutor general’s office, Aki-Press said investigators have accused Askarov of inciting protesters to violence.

But  local and international human rights groups said the charges are retaliation against

Askarov for his role in documenting failures by police to stop human rights abuses in the southern village of Bazar-Korgon. CPJ sources said Askarov has long been at odds with Jalal-Abad police because of his past reporting on torture of police detainees.

Askarov was reportedly beaten in custody. A graphic image of the researcher, showing his bruises, surfaced in the local press several days after his arrest. Askarov’s lawyer was himself attacked while visiting his client at the detention facility, the independent news website Ferghana reported. According to Amnesty International, which has designated Askarov a prisoner of conscience, Kyrgyz authorities have refused to investigate reports of the abuse.