Press release

Kyrgyzstan: Azimjan Askarov’s death marks a significant failure of Kyrgyzstan to uphold its human rights commitments

Kyrgyzstani authorities kept Askarov in custody even as his condition deteriorated, and while human rights organizations called for his release.

In response to human rights defender Azimjan Askarov’s tragic death in custodyFreedom House issued the following statement:   

“We are saddened by the death of human rights activist Azimjan Askarov in prison and express our deepest condolences to his family,” said Marc Behrendt, director of Europe and Eurasia programs. “The unfairness of Askarov’s arrest, trial, and sentencing reflected Kyrgyzstan’s rejection of its international commitments to protect human rights. By ignoring the many domestic and international voices calling to release Azimjan Askarov and continuing to hold him in inhuman prison conditions, Kyrgyzstan bears the responsibility for this most tragic and irreversible consequence. We regret that Kyrgyzstan, previously considered an ‘island of democracy’ in Central Asia, continues to fail to protect its citizens’ freedoms and lives.”


Azimjan Askarov, a prominent human rights defender and founder of the human rights organization Vozdukh (Air), worked as a journalist to investigate and report on cases of police abuse and poor prison conditions in Kyrgyzstan. In June 2010, he was arrested following violent clashes between ethnic Kyrgyzs and Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan. Askarov’s case was a reflection of the inability of the Kyrgyzstani legal system to fairly address the tragedy of the violence in the south of the country in 2010. That September, Askarov, who was subjected to torture while in pretrial detention, was sentenced to life in prison for his alleged involvement in the clashes. The General Prosecutor's Office refused to investigate the torture allegations, and the Supreme Court later upheld the General Prosecutor's refusal to further investigate his case. In 2016, the UN Human Rights Committee, which considered a complaint brought by Askarov against Kyrgyzstan, called for his conviction to be dropped. Leading international human rights organizations repeatedly urged Kyrgyzstan to release Askarov, noting his deteriorating health. 

Askarov died last Saturday, July 25, 2020, in a prison clinic, a day after he was hospitalized with pneumonia.

Kyrgyzstan is rated Partly Free in Freedom in the World 2020, Partly Free in Freedom on the Net 2019, and is categorized as a Consolidated Authoritarian Regime in Nations in Transit 2020.