Vienna, Austria, 31-7-2014 — /EuropaWire/ — Head of the Human Rights Department of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), Snježana Bokulić visited prominent human rights defender and journalist Azimjan Askarov in prison in Bishkek on 30 July 2014.
“Mr. Askarov expressed indignation at his situation,” Bokulić said. “While he did not complain about his treatment in prison, he said he suffers from backaches, insomnia and occasionally depression. He also said he was grateful to all those who have not forgotten him, and that he has particularly enjoyed the messages and drawings he has received from children from different countries.”
Askarov, an ethnic Uzbek from Bazar-Korgon in Kyrgyzstan, was arrested in June 2010, in the aftermath of inter-ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan, and charged with a number of crimes, including organizing mass disorder and inciting inter-ethnic hatred, as well as complicity in hostage-taking and in murder. He was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment and had his property confiscated.
“Askarov’s arrest, detention and trials have raised serious concerns among lawyers and human rights groups in relation to the fair trial standards and human rights guarantees that Kyrgyzstan has committed to uphold as an OSCE participating State,” Bokulić said. “Without a new investigation of Askarov’s case, the strong suspicion will remain that his conviction and sentence are directly related to his human rights work.”
Observers of the first and second instance trials, including those from the OSCE, reported serious violations of fair trial standards, such as over-reliance on police evidence, and the failure of the authorities to adequately address the intimidation of defence witnesses and lawyers, to consider exculpatory evidence, and to effectively follow-up on visible signs of torture.
Askarov had worked with ODIHR on monitoring human rights in places of detention in southern Kyrgyzstan and has spoken out on many occasions against police brutality.
In its Guidelines on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, published in June, ODIHR stressed that all participating States have committed themselves to protect human rights defenders, including their right to a fair trial, and to ensure that all allegations of torture of human rights defenders are promptly, independently and effectively investigated.