Awardee Azimjon Askarov is serving a life sentence for his critical reporting. After learning about CPJ’s award on Voice of America’s Uzbek service, Askarov wrote a letter of thanks. A translation of the full letter is below.
Dear IPFA guests, dear CPJ,
I learned of your decision to present me with the International Press Freedom Award on September 13, while listening to a broadcast by Voice of America radio in a cold basement cell of a Kyrgyz jail. When I heard about your award, I both cried and jumped with joy.
I am extremely grateful for such an eminent appraisal of my work in defense of human rights.
Fifteen years ago I promised myself that no person and no circumstance would ever force me to abandon my professional duty, which I have taken by honor, conscience, and dignity. Today, incarcerated, I am ready to repeat this promise, and I hope that I will have enough moral strength to stand by these principles of conscience until the end of my days.
I disagree with the Kyrgyz justice system because my prosecution was fabricated from start to finish by regional police and prosecutors. Not a single piece of evidence has been brought as proof of my guilt. On the contrary–residents of my native village Bazar-Korgon, as well as photos and videos taken during those tragic days, can attest to my innocence.
During 15 years of work in the human rights field, I have documented and exposed flagrant abuses committed by regional police. I’ve reported these facts through local and international news outlets. Many of the abusers were brought to trial, though many were left unpunished. Abuses are ongoing.
For many years, Kyrgyz law enforcement agents have held a grudge against me. And they seized the moment to retaliate during the tragic events of June 2010. I witnessed and documented on camera both the violence and those who incited it. My imprisonment–much like the bruises inflicted on my body after I was arrested–can only mean only one thing: that somebody is interested in silencing me.
During the tragic days of June 2010, I was doing my work in Bazar-Korgon: documenting violence and helping to identify victims. Twenty-three civilians were shot dead, more than 50 were wounded, and 205 houses belonging to ethnic Uzbeks were burned to ashes. Yet, not a single one of these facts was publicized by the mainstream Kyrgyz media, and authorities continue to remain silent about the killings, the mass-scale looting, and the arson in Bazar-Korgon.
The only incident they acknowledged was the killing of a police officer–a terrible crime with which I am now charged. Even though I learned of the killing from my neighbors, authorities accused me of taking part in it. But my conscience is clear; I have committed no crime.
I am asking the international community to hold the Kyrgyz government to the international commitments and obligations it has undertaken. I am urging you to take immediate action and help save those currently perishing in Kyrgyzstan’s substandard prisons.
I am extremely grateful for your recognition, and I remain hopeful that I will one day see the sun once more–not through the barred window of my prison cell but as a free man.