June 13, 2012
His Excellency Almazbek Atambayev
President of the Kyrgyz Republic
205, Chui Prospect
+996 312 638971
Dear President Atambayev,
The Committee to Protect Journalists is writing to bring to your attention a new report we have issued on Azimjon Askarov, an investigative journalist and human rights defender who was sentenced in September 2010 to life in prison. CPJ’s review of Askarov’s case, outlined in the attached report, has found that his probe and trial were marred by numerous procedural violations, including his torture in custody and the lack of any evidence implicating him in criminal activity.
CPJ wrote a letter in September 2010 to your predecessor, President Roza Otunbayeva, in which we described our concerns about Askarov’s case and called for a fair trial, but to no avail. We are writing to you now in the hope that you can ensure justice in this case, which, to this point, has been denied.
Regional authorities in Bazar-Korgon, in southern Kyrgyzstan, imprisoned Askarov on June 15, 2010, in connection with regional ethnic conflict. Three months later, he was sentenced to life in prison on politicized charges that included incitement to ethnic hatred, calls to mass disorder, illegal possession of ammunition, attempt to take hostage, and complicity in a police officer’s murder. Askarov’s sentence also included the confiscation of his property, including his house, where his wife lives. We are attaching a copy of the court’s verdict to this letter.
CPJ’s review of the case materials has established that Askarov did not commit any of the crimes he was charged with, and your government’s own ombudsman’s office has even challenged his conviction. The murder-complicity case against him was based on conflicting testimonies by colleagues of the slain officer, none of whom witnessed the killing or Askarov’s involvement in it. Investigators did not produce any independent witnesses in court–as required by Kyrgyz law–and there was no evidence proving his involvement in mass disorder. Askarov was also charged with a hostage-taking attempt, which, according to the verdict, never even occurred. Authorities did not take statements from defense witnesses, who were afraid to appear in court due to ongoing threats from the slain officer’s family and colleagues.
Askarov and his lawyers told CPJ that the police brutally beat and tortured him while he was in custody, from the day of his imprisonment through the trial. When a U.S.-based doctor examined him last December, she found that he appeared to have “suffered severe and lasting physical injuries … as well as chronic physical and psychological symptoms.” We are attaching the doctor’s affidavit to this letter.
Askarov and his lawyers have told CPJ that regional authorities have long sought to retaliate against him for his coverage of the abuses and brutality committed by local investigators, police, and prosecutors before and during the 2010 ethnic conflict. Askarov’s exposés on these and other abuses have been widely reported in the regional media, and resulted in the sacking and dismissal of corrupt officials.
Since Askarov’s detention, local and international human rights and press freedom groups, including CPJ, have called on your government to stand by its declared commitment to press freedom and the rule of law, both of which were grossly violated in his case. We urge you to use your high office to ensure that those responsible for the injustices in this case–from the fabrication of charges against Askarov to his torture during imprisonment–are brought to justice, no matter their rank or office.
Mr. President, as an independent organization that defends press freedom worldwide, we call on you to bring long denied justice to Askarov by releasing him and absolving him of crimes for which he has been falsely convicted. We urge you to also ensure that his confiscated property, including his home, is returned to him in good order.
The unjust conviction of Azimjon Askarov has done grave damage to Kyrgyzstan’s international reputation. By ensuring his freedom, you can reverse this perception while highlighting your personal commitment to human rights and press freedom. We are counting on you to ensure that the free flow of information in Kyrgyzstan remains a priority.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.
Muktar Djumaliev, Ambassador of the Kyrgyz Republic to the U.S.
Pamela L. Spratlen, U.S. Ambassador to the Kyrgyz Republic
Ruslan Kazakbayev, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kyrgyz Republic
Aida Salyanova, Prosecutor General of the Kyrgyz Republic
Almambet Shykmamatov, Minister of Justice of the Kyrgyz Republic
Michael H. Posner, U.S. Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Thomas O. Melia, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Christopher H. Smith, Chairman of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Thomas Hammarberg, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights
Dunja Mijatovic, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media
Navanethem Pillay, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights
Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General
Baroness Catherine Ashton, EU External Relations Commissioner
Barbara Lochbihler, Chair of the Subcommittee on Human Rights of the European Parliament