New York, October 3, 2016--Kyrgyz authorities should fully abide by the United Nations Human Rights Committee's calls to immediately release Azimjon Askarov, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Askarov, a 2012 recipient of CPJ's International Press Freedom Award, was arrested, convicted, and jailed for life on trumped-up charges in the aftermath of ethnic violence that swept southern Kyrgyzstan in 2010. Following an April 21 ruling by the U.N. Human Rights Committee that Askarov should be freed without delay, the Kyrgyzstan Supreme Court overturned its December 2011 decision to deny the journalist's appeal and ordered a retrial, according to a statement from the court and press reports. The opening hearing in the retrial is to be held tomorrow in the Birinchi Mai district court of the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek.
Askarov was a contributor to independent news websites including Voice of Freedom and director of the local human rights group Vozdukh (Air), where he documented human rights violations for over 10 years until his arrest in June 2010. In September 2010, he was convicted of charges including incitement to ethnic hatred and complicity in the murder of a police officer. CPJ research determined that the charges were in retaliation for Askarov's exposés of abuse by police and prosecutors and for his reporting on the early stages of the June 2010 ethnic conflict. Askarov, an ethnic Uzbek, was documenting human rights violations in his hometown of Bazar-Korgon during the unrest.
"We call on Kyrgyzstan to finally right a terrible, long-standing injustice and release Azimjon Askarov without delay," said Nina Ognianova, CPJ's Europe and Central Asia Program coordinator. "Askarov has spent more than six years in prison for crimes he did not commit in retaliation for his documentation of human rights abuses in southern Kyrgyzstan. Every additional day he spends in detention is a violation of the obligations Bishkek has before the U.N. Human Rights Committee, which declared that he must be freed."
CPJ, along with other press freedom and human rights groups, has documented procedural violations in Askarov's case including a judicial process marred by torture, lack of evidence, and the retaliatory nature of the charges used to imprison him. After Askarov was denied an appeal, the journalist's lawyers sought redress before the U.N. Human Rights Committee.
The U.N. body, comprised of 18 international independent human rights experts, found that Askarov had been unjustly arrested, convicted, and imprisoned. The committee also found that Askarov had been held in inhumane conditions and was denied a fair trial.
Askarov is being held at a prison colony outside Bishkek, the journalist's son, Sherzod Askarov, told CPJ on September 29. According to Sherzod, who spoke to CPJ over the phone, the journalist's health has deteriorated in recent months. "He is denied medical treatment from the doctors outside the prison," the journalist's son said. "Nor is he allowed to see his lawyers. Only family members can have rare visits." He also expressed hope for his father's imminent release, saying that "authorities should understand that this case hurts Kyrgyzstan's image in the international arena because it has displayed the country as a violator of basic human rights."