Paris-Geneva, July 25, 2022 – Today marks the second anniversary of Azimjan Askarov’s death in custody due to the appalling detention conditions that the human rights defender endured during the ten years he arbitrarily spent behind bars, including the lack of access to adequate medical care. On the day of this unfortunate milestone, the Observatory (FIDH-OMCT) reiterates its call for justice in this case and for Mr. Askarov to be finally rehabilitated and recognised for the human rights work he has carried out in Kyrgyzstan.
On June 25, 2020, Mr. Azimjan Askarov, an ethnic Uzbek, and the director of Vozdukh, a human rights organisation in Kyrgyzstan documenting widespread police brutality, died in penitentiary institution No. 47, at the age of 69. It has been two years since he passed away and yet, no effective investigation into his death has been carried out to establish responsibilities, despite the repeated calls from his family and human rights organisations in Kyrgyzstan and around the world.
The Observatory recalls that Azimjan Askarov was arrested on June 15, 2010, immediately after inter-ethnic clashes between Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities broke out and were accompanied by police violence. When he died in custody, Azimjan Askarov was serving a life sentence in penitentiary colony No. 19 in Bishkek. The human rights defender had been unfairly accused of, among other charges, “participating in mass riots”, “inciting ethnic hatred”, and “complicity in the murder of a police officer”. The case was built on testimonies extracted under torture and on statements from Kyrgyz police officers whose work and human rights violations Mr. Askarov had previously documented. As reported by the Observatory in its 2016 report “Kyrgyzstan at a crossroads: Shrink or widen the scene for human rights defenders,” from the very beginning of the judicial proceedings in 2010, the case was marked as politically motivated.
For over a decade, FIDH Honorary President Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH Presidents Karim Lahidji and Dimitris Christopoulos, as well as FIDH Vice President Ales Bialiatski travelled to Kyrgyzstan within the framework of Observatory field missions, to visit Mr. Askarov in jail and advocate for his release before the authorities of Kyrgyzstan. In March 2016, the United Nations Human Rights Committee (CCPR) found that Mr. Askarov was arbitrarily detained, held in inhumane conditions, had been tortured and otherwise ill-treated without redress, and was not given a fair trial, urging Kyrgyzstan to immediately release him. Furthermore, in an April 2016 statement, the European Union called on Kyrgyzstan to “fully implement” the Committee’s Opinion. Those repeated calls were all disregarded by the authorities.
During his detention, the lack of access to timely and high-quality medical care, as well as the poor conditions of detention, led to the deterioration of Mr. Askarov's health condition and ultimately, to his death. On July 22, 2020, Mr. Askarov's lawyer, Valerian Vakhitov, visited his client and reported that the human rights defender's health had critically deteriorated, as he was not able to walk by himself, could barely speak, had lost weight and presented Covid-19 symptoms. He died three days later, on July 25, 2020, in penitentiary institution No. 47, where he had been transferred the day before for a medical check-up.
FIDH’s member organisation Bir Duino asserted that, in light of the systematic disregard by the Kyrgyz authorities to release Azimjan Askarov, including on humanitarian grounds due to the critical deterioration of his health, his death would amount to an extrajudicial killing, as defined by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.
The Observatory is appalled by the lack of effective justice in the case of Azimjan Askarov and calls on the Kyrgyz authorities to carry out an independent, thorough, impartial, and transparent investigation into his death in custody, so that all those responsible be held accountable. The Observatory furthers calls on the authorities in Kyrgyzstan to rehabilitate Azimjan Askarov’s name and to grant fair and adequate compensation to his family.