“The UN’s many communications to have Mr Askarov’s case quashed have been ignored by the Kyrgyzstani authorities,” said Mary Lawlor, the new Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. “In 2016, the UN Human Rights Committee found that he had been arbitrarily detained, held in inhumane conditions, tortured, mistreated and denied his right to a fair trial. The Committee called for the quashing of his conviction”
Askarov, a 69-year-old ethnic Uzbek, has been serving a life sentence since 2010 after being accused of complicity in the killing of a police officer, and other crimes. A final appeal in his case will be heard on 13 May, when the Supreme Court will review his case in light of new legal facts and factual elements, including the decision of the UN Human Rights Committee.
“I call for a proper review of Mr Askarov’s appeal in accordance with all the safeguards of a fair trial, and his immediate release. Kyrgyzstan must demonstrate that it is willing to uphold human rights through its protection of human rights defenders and ethnic minorities,” the Special Rapporteur said.
Before his arrest in the aftermath of ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan, Askarov spent more than 10 years documenting cases of police brutality and mistreatment of prisoners in his hometown of Bazar-Korgon. He will not be considered in an amnesty being granted to hundreds of prisoners on 9 May to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of the Great Patriotic War and the 2010 People’s Revolution, because of the severity of the charges against him.
“We are concerned about the toll that dismal prison conditions and solitary confinement have had on Mr Askarov’s health, and the increased risk that COVID-19 poses to incarcerated elder prisoners like him with underlying health conditions,” Lawlor said.
The expert called on the government to allow for the early or temporary release of prisoners because of health risks during the COVID-19 pandemic, and to ensure that human rights defenders such as Askarov, and other individuals detained without sufficient legal basis are included.
The Special Rapporteur is communicating with authorities in Kyrgyzstan and will continue to closely monitor the situation.
Ms. Lawlor’s call has been endorsed by the Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Mr. Fernand de Varennes; the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Mr. Diego García-Sayán; and the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Mr. Nils Melzer.
Ms. Mary LAWLOR (Ireland) is the new Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. She’s is currently an Adjunct Professor of Business and Human Rights in Trinity College Dublin. She was the founder of Front Line Defenders - the International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. As Executive Director from 2001-2016, she represented Front Line Defenders and had a key role in its development. Ms. Lawlor was the Director of the Irish Section of Amnesty International from 1988 to 2000, became a Board member in 1975 and was elected Chair from 1983 to 1987.
Photo credit: Front Line Defenders