CPJ calls on UN Secretary-General Guterres to push for release of Azimjon Askarov in Kyrgyzstan

September 17, 2019

Secretary-General António Guterres
United Nations
Room NL-3019
New York, NY 10017

Sent via email

Dear Mr. Secretary-General,

I am writing from the Committee to Protect Journalists to urge you to take immediate action and call on the government of Kyrgyzstan to release unjustly imprisoned journalist and human rights defender Azimjon Askarov. I visited him in prison recently and am deeply concerned about his deteriorating health and his treatment there. I am interested in arranging a meeting with you or with Senior Advisor Anna Maria Menendez, to discuss my visit with Askarov and the latest developments in his case.

Askarov, 68, is an ethnic Uzbek journalist who was unfairly and wrongfully sentenced to life in prison in 2010 for his alleged role in interethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan that summer, following his many years of reporting on human rights violations and corruption in law enforcement. He was found guilty of participating in mass disturbances, inciting ethnic hatred, and for complicity in the murder of a police officer who was killed during the unrest. His verdict was upheld on appeal, including by the Kyrgyzstan Supreme Court.

However, CPJ research found that the 2010 trial was marred by irregularities and allegations of torture, mistreatment, and harassment of witnesses and defendants, including of Askarov himself.

In 2016, the U.N. Human Rights Committee ruled that Askarov had been arbitrarily detained, held in inhumane conditions, tortured, and denied a fair trial. That ruling noted that Kyrgyzstan “violated the author’s rights under article 14 (3) (e) of the Covenant [ICCPR]” and called on Kyrgyzstan to release Askarov and reverse his conviction. Although that ruling prompted a judicial review in Kyrgyzstan, a court in January 2017 handed down the same verdict as before.

CPJ and partners addressed Askarov’s case at a U.N. panel discussion on imprisoned journalists during the 2018 U.N. General Assembly. Most recently, on July 30, 2019, a Kyrgyz court reviewed the case in line with new legislation, but ruled that a life sentence could not be overturned. Neither Askarov nor his lawyer were permitted to attend that hearing.

CPJ is deeply concerned about the ongoing and repeated denial of justice for our imprisoned colleague. Askarov has already served more than nine years in prison on a conviction handed down in a fundamentally flawed and unfair trial, and his health has been deteriorating. Justice has never been served in his case.

We urge you to act on Askarov’s behalf, and would welcome the opportunity to discuss this in greater detail with you or an advisor from your office. The Kyrgyz government must be held accountable for its shortcomings in living up to its international human rights obligations.

We ask that you engage with the Kyrgyz government and call for the release of a man who was simply carrying out his work as a journalist. We believe your voice could send a powerful message that imprisonment as a form of censorship will not be tolerated.

We look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely,

Gulnoza Said
Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator
Committee to Protect Journalists