Press release

Kyrgyzstan: Continued Detention of Rights Defender Undermines International Commitments

Freedom House remains deeply concerned and disappointed by the Kyrgyzstan Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the life sentence of ethnic Uzbek human rights activist Azimjan Askarov. 

In response to Azimjan Askarov’s final appeal being denied by the Kyrgyz Supreme Court, Freedom House issued the following statement:

“We are deeply concerned and disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the life sentence of ethnic Uzbek human rights activist Azimjan Askarov,” said Marc Behrendt, director of Europe and Eurasia programs at Freedom House. “By keeping Askarov behind bars despite findings by the UN Human Rights Committee that he had been ‘arbitrarily detained, held in inhumane conditions, tortured and mistreated, and prevented from adequately preparing his trial defense,’ Kyrgyzstan undermines its international commitment to protect human rights. As a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Kyrgyzstan is obligated to ensure to all individuals the rights recognized in the covenant, including the right to liberty, freedom from torture, and a fair trial, and to provide an effective remedy when violations have occurred. We call on Kyrgyzstan to release Askarov immediately to demonstrate that international commitments of the country are respected and upheld.”


Azimjan Askarov, a prominent human rights defender and founder of the human rights organization Vozdukh (Air), was arrested in June 2010 following violent clashes between ethnic Kyrgyzs and Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan. He was charged with organizing mass riots and involvement in the killing of a police officer, and that September was sentenced to life imprisonment. Askarov was tortured during his time in pretrial detention facilities. However, the General Prosecutor’s Office refused to investigate the allegations of torture, and various courts, including the Supreme Court, upheld the refusal. In 2016, the UN Human Rights Committee, which considered a complaint brought by Askarov against Kyrgyzstan, called for his conviction to be quashed. On May 13, 2020, the Kyrgyz Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s decision to reject a request to review his sentence.

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.