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Kyrgyzstan
31.07.19
Urgent Interventions

Life sentence of Mr. Azimjan Askarov upheld by Chuy Regional Court of Kyrgyzstan

URGENT APPEAL - THE OBSERVATORY



New informationKGZ 001 / 0910 / OBS 109.8Retrial /Arbitrary detention /Judicial harassmentKyrgyzstanJuly 31, 2019

The Observatory for theProtection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World OrganisationAgainst Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your urgentintervention in the following situation in Kyrgyzstan.


New information:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the rulingby the Chuy Regional Court of Kyrgyzstan to upholdthe life sentence of Mr. Azimjan Askarov, the Director of the humanrights organisation “Vozdukh” (Air).

According to the information received, on July 30,2019, the Chuy Regional Court of Kyrgyzstan was to review the conviction of thehuman rights defender following the mitigation of several provisions of the newCriminal Code of Kyrgyzstan.

In 2017, Mr. Askarov was found guilty of violating,inter alia, Article 30–340 of the Criminal Code of the Kyrgyz Republic(“complicity in murder of law-enforcement officer”) which carried lifeimprisonment as the maximum sentence (see background information). Thisprovision was removed from the new Criminal Code of Kyrgyzstan, and, accordingto Mr. Askarov’s lawyer, Mr. Valerian Vakhitov, the defender has already servedthe term in respect to the other charges brought against him[1].

Representatives of the British, German, and Swissembassies, Human Rights Watch, as well as the High Commissioner for HumanRights’ (OHCHR) Regional Office for Central Asia were present at the July-30hearing. Despite requests from Mr. Askarov himself and his advocate Mr.Valerian Vakhitov, Mr. Askarov was not allowed to attend the retrial, inviolation of Article 14.3 (d) of the International Covenant on Civil andPolitical Rights (“In the determination ofany criminal charge against him, everyone shall be entitled [...] to be triedin his presence”).

During this hearing, Mr. Vakhitov pleaded in favour ofMr. Askarov’s release pursuant to the provisions of the new Criminal Code, andstressed the deterioration of Mr. Askarov’s health. However, the stateProsecutor alleged that the cases of convicts sentenced to life imprisonmentshall not be subject to revision. The Court followed the state Prosecutor'sposition and upheld the sentence, stating that under the article on which Mr.Askarov was convicted, the new Criminal Code also provides for lifeimprisonment.

After the retrial, Mr. Askarov’s advocate stated thatthe state Prosecutor did not get acquainted with the legislation, according towhich they should have reclassified the case: the law of the Kyrgyz RepublicNo. 10 of January 24, 2017, that establishes the procedure for the enteringinto force of the new Criminal Code, indeed provides for the revision of criminalcases under Article 340 which was repealed in the new Code.

Mr. Askarov’s defence intends to appeal the decisionof the Chuy Regional Court to the Supreme Court of the Kyrgyz Republic.

Mr. Askarov has already served nine years in prisonfollowing an unfair trial marred by a flawed investigation, bias, lack ofsubstantial evidence and allegations of torture and the absence ofinvestigation thereof. In 2016, the United Nations Human Rights Committee(UNHRC) ruled that Azimjan Askarov was arbitrarily detained and was not given afair trial and thus requested his release (see background information).

Furthermore, on theeve of the retrial, on July 29, 2019, a doctor who assessed Mr. Askarov’shealth condition concluded that he needs a comprehensive examination andtreatment. During the doctor’s visit Mr. Askarov reported "dull aches inthe heart area [...], shortness of breath when walking [...], pain andheaviness in the right hypochondrium, nausea, pain in the joints, especiallyknees; abdominal pain, frequent urination [...], headaches, dizziness andweakness" (the Observatory holds a copy of the report in Russian). His health has severely deteriorated as he has been held in appallingconditions[2]. According to the United NationsStandard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, known also as “theNelson Mandela Rules”, persons with health conditions, “for whom staying inprison would mean an exacerbation of their condition, shall not be detained inprisons”.

The Observatoryexpresses its utmost concern regarding the health condition of Mr. Askarov andurges the authorities of Kyrgyzstan to immediately release him from prison ashis detention is arbitrary, but also since his health condition requires urgentrelease on medical grounds. In the meantime, the authorities should takenecessary steps to provide him with adequate medical treatment.

Background information:

As the Director of the human rights organisation“Vozdukh” (Air), Mr. Azimjan Askarov has been documenting police ill-treatmentof detainees and monitoring the human rights situation in the province ofJalal-Abad, in particular the mass violence in Bazar Korgon in June 2010.

On June 15, 2010, Mr. Askarov was arbitrarily arrestedby agents of Bazar Korgon police department for allegedly having urged ethnicUzbeks to take the district official Mr. A. Artykov hostage, for havingordered the blockade of the Bishkek-Osh highway and for having urged to attackpolice officers. One of the attacks caused the death of a policeman,Mr. Sulaimanov.

On September 15, 2010, after what was a mock trialMr. Askarov was sentenced to life imprisonment after he was found guiltyof complicity in Mr. Sulaimanov’s murder. The trial was marred withirregularities, including alleged torture and the courtroom intimidation ofwitnesses by police and of lawyers by the audience. Mr. Askarov and theother defendants had pleaded not guilty during the trial. Mr. Askarov’s lawyer,Mr. Nurbek Toktakunov, asked for a medical examination, which was denied.According to family members of the suspects and human rights organisations, allof them were subjected to acts of torture and ill-treatment by prison guards incustody and presented visible physical injuries.

On November 10, 2010, the Court of Appeal upheld thelife sentence of Mr. Azimjan Askarov following a trial marred byirregularities. At that time, the health of Mr. Askarov had alreadyseverely deteriorated.

On January 26, 2011, the defence lawyers requested theSupreme Court to examine and include new evidence in the criminal case,including a testimony made by Ms. Aziza Abdirasulova, Director of the humanrights organisation Kylym Shamy, that showed that, in May 2010,Mr. Azimjan Askarov had warned the authorities that acts of violence werebeing prepared in Bazar Korgon. According to Mr. Azimjan Askarov’s lawyerNurbek Toktakunov, this warning might have triggered the fabrication of thiscase. In addition, defence lawyer Kairat Zagibaev provided evidence showingthat Mr. Askarov was not present at the scene where the incidents tookplace. The Supreme Court accepted the new evidence. On February 8, 2011, thesame Court decided to open an investigation into the conditions of detention inKyrgyzstan, especially in provisional detention centres, and to suspend sinedie the trial against Mr. Askarov. This decision was taken following apetition made by Mr. Nurbek Toktakunov, lawyer of Mr. Askarov, on theappalling conditions of detention of his client and other prisoners in thetemporary detention facilities of Bazar Korgon, which have hampered thepreparation of the defence.

In October 2011, Mr. Askarov’s defence team conducteda private investigation and gathered evidence pointing to the innocence of thelatter and reporting use of torture and inhuman treatment against him.

On December 20, 2011, the Supreme Court upheld thesentence to life imprisonment. After years of pressure, in May 2013, a newinvestigation was ordered by the Vice Prosecutor General of the KyrgyzstanRepublic, but was closed nine months later for lack of legal basis.

On September 3, 2014, the Supreme Court reversed theBishkek District Court decision of April 30, 2014 which was in favour of are-opening Mr. Askarov’s case. The hearing was marked by acts ofintimidation against Mr. Askarov. It is reported that several unidentifiedindividuals stopped the hearing and brought the convict outside of thecourtroom to talk privately.

The UnitedNations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) ruled in March 2016 that Mr. AzimjanAskarov was arbitrarily detained, held in inhumane conditions, tortured andotherwise ill-treated without redress, and was not given a fair trial. Theruling noted that Kyrgyzstan “violated the author’s rights under article 14 (3)(e) of the Covenant [International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights].” The UNHRC urgedKyrgyzstan to immediately release Mr. Azimjan Askarov[3].

The EuropeanUnion (EU) has called on Kyrgyzstan to “fully implement” the Committee’s rulingin an April 2016 statement[4].

OnJanuary 24, 2017, the Chuy Regional Court of Kyrgyzstan confirmed the lifesentence against Mr. Azimjan Askarov following a retrial marked by bias andprocedural irregularities, including court refusal to hear some defencewitnesses, inaction towards threats and violent behavior of deceased policeofficer's wife, restrictions to access to the courtroom, failure to investigatecredible allegations of torture and ignoring acts of pressure and intimidationtargeting defence witnesses and lawyers.

More recently, inJanuary 2019, the European Parliament adopted a resolution[5] on the European Union-Kyrgyzstancomprehensive agreement calling for Azimjan Askarov’s immediate release and fullrehabilitation, and for Kyrgyzstan to quash his conviction and provide him withreparation.

On March 18,2019, Mr. Askarov was transferred from temporary detention facility SIZO-1 inBishkek, where he was held in solitary confinement in a small cell measuringapproximately 1.15m x 3.5m with a bed made from concrete, an open toilet and nonatural light, to Prison Colony No. 19, located about an hour outside Bishkek,in the Chuy region.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Kyrgyzstan,urging them to:

i. Immediately and unconditionally release Mr. AzimjanAskarov as his detention is arbitrary since it only seems to aim at punishinghim for his human rights activities and in addition, it severely contributes tothe deterioration of his medical condition;

ii. Provide Mr. Azimjan Askarov with adequatecompensation in accordance with the decision of the UNHRC;

iii.Undertake a prompt, impartial and thorough investigation into the claims oftorture, otherwise, ill-treatment of Mr. Azimjan Askarov with a view topublishing the results and bringing those responsible to justice in accordancewith international standards;

iv. Put an end to all acts of harassment, including atthe judicial level, against Mr. Azimjan Askarov and all human rights defendersin Kyrgyzstan;

v. Ensure Mr. Askarov's rights to due process and to afair trial including by ensuring that the recent changes in the Criminal Codeare duly respected thus allowing for a revision of his case;

vi. Conform with the provisions of the UN Declarationon Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the UnitedNations on December 9, 1998, especially Articles 1 and 12.2; and

vii. More generally, ensure respect for human rightsand fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rightsstandards and international instruments ratified by Kyrgyzstan.

Addresses:

· Mr. Sooronbay Jeenbekov,President of the Kyrgyz Republic, Chuy Ave, 205, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan Tel: +996 312 63 91 17, Fax: +996312626191

· Mr. Kashkar Junushaliev,Minister of Internal Affairs, Frunze st. 469, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Tel: +(996312) 26 60 54, Fax: + 996312682044 / + 996312623853, email: secretariat@mvd.kg

· Mr. Marat Dzamankulov,Minister of Justice, 32 M. Gandi Str., 720010 Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Tel: +996(312) 656490, Fax: +996 (312) 656502, email: jm.26@mail.ru

· Ms. OtkurbekDzhamshitov, General Prosecutor Office, 39 Erkindik Avenue, 720040 Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan,Tel:+996 (312) 663373, Fax: +996 (312) 661734

· Permanent Mission ofKyrgyzstan to the United Nations in Geneva, Avenue Blanc 51 (3rd Floor) 1202Geneva, Tel: +41 22 707 92 20, Email: kyrgyzmission@bluewin.ch, Fax: +41 22707.92.21

· Embassy of Kyrgyzstan inBrussels, Abdijstraat 47 1050 Brussels, Belgium, Tel: + 32 2 640 18 68 / + 32 2640 38 83, Fax: + 32 2 640 01 31, Email: aitmatov@infonie.be

Please also write to diplomatic representations of Kyrgyzstan in your respectivecountries.

***

Paris-Geneva,July 31, 2019

Kindly inform us of any action undertakenquoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

TheObservatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) wascreated in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). Theobjective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations ofrepression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu,the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented byinternational civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call theemergency line:

· E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org

· Tel and fax FIDH + 33(0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80

· Tel and fax OMCT + 41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29


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