Freedom House Dismayed by Results of Askarov Appeal in Kyrgyzstan | Freedom House

Freedom House Dismayed by Results of Askarov Appeal in Kyrgyzstan

Washington

Freedom House is deeply concerned to learn that a Kyrgyz court has upheld the life sentence of Azimzhan Askarov, head of the civil society organization Vozdukh, at his appeal hearing yesterday in Jalalabad. 
 
Askarov and seven other ethnic Uzbeks were found guilty in September of “inciting inter-ethnic hatred and organizing mass disorder” that resulted in the death of a police officer during the ethnic conflict that rocked Kyrgyzstan in June. Askarov and several others faced an additional charge of murder. The charges against Askarov stem specifically from alleged video footage he recorded during the violence. Some believe that he was arrested and charged because he documented security forces failing to protect ethnic Uzbeks from, and even participating in, ethnic violence. His original trial was marred by procedural violations including illegal searches of property, breaches of detainment regulations, and, allegedly, torture at the hands of police officials. It is believed that these violations at least partially stem from both Askarov’s profession and ethnicity.
 
“Yesterday’s court ruling is particularly alarming because it in essence reinforces national and inter-ethnic hostility in Kyrgyzstan,” remarked David J. Kramer, executive director of Freedom House.  “The Kyrgyz government must take an active role in its citizens’ reconciliation and strengthen respect for rule of law, mutual tolerance, and understanding if the country hopes to achieve positive, long-lasting success as the first parliamentary democracy in Central Asia.”
 
Askarov’s appeals trial was also marred by procedural violations. Relatives of the deceased police officer regularly interrupted court proceedings and were allowed to decorate the trial room with posters calling for the death penalty for the defendants.  Moreover, lawyers and eye-witnesses report that police officers escorting the defendants to and from court subjected them to physical attacks, and other sources claim that Askarov himself was beaten while detained.
 
“If the new government hopes to avoid the risk of future upheaval and turmoil, it is critical that it take the necessary measures to protect the rights of its citizens and restore fair access to justice. That includes protecting these defendants, as well as members of ethnic minority groups at large, from intimidation and harassment,” said Sam Patten, senior program manager for Eurasia at Freedom House. "There is yet to be seen any real proportionality in bringing charges against the perpetrators of June's violence, and unless this is addressed, the lingering sense of injustice will mar this new government before it has a chance to become effective."
 
Kyrgyzstan is ranked Not Free in Freedom in the World 2010, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2010.
 
For more information on Kyrgyzstan, visit:
 
 
 
Freedom of the Press 2010: Kyrgyzstan

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Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

Join us on Facebook and Twitter (freedomhouse). Stay up to date with Freedom House’s latest news and events by signing up for our newsletter.