Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 October 2014, 16:06 GMT

Kyrgyzstan: Ensure Safety, Fair Trial for Rights Defender

Publisher Human Rights Watch
Publication Date 1 September 2010
Cite as Human Rights Watch, Kyrgyzstan: Ensure Safety, Fair Trial for Rights Defender , 1 September 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c7f94931a.html [accessed 22 October 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

(New York) - The Kyrgyz government should ensure that Azimjon Askarov, an ethnic Uzbek human rights defender arrested in connection with the June violence in southern Kyrgyzstan, is given a fair and public trial, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should guarantee all of his due process rights as well as his safety and that of his lawyer.

Askarov's trial is scheduled to begin on September 2, 2010, in Bazar-Kurgan, a town in southern Kyrgyzstan. A number of attacks on Askarov's lawyer, Nurbek Toktakunov, and the local authorities' failure to respond to them, have seriously jeopardized the lawyer's safety and Askarov's right to a fair trial, Human Rights Watch said.

"The authorities need to show that Askarov's trial will be scrupulously fair," said Andrea Berg, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. "It is one of the first high-profile cases related to the violence in southern Kyrgyzstan and will send an important signal for the trials to follow."

Askarov is director of Air, a local human rights organization, and had been active in the Jalal-Abad province human rights network called Justice. For several years his work focused on documenting prison conditions and police treatment of detainees.

He faces eight charges, including hostage-taking, inciting ethnic hatred, participation and organization of mass disorder, and complicity in murder. Some of the charges derive from an incident in which a group killed a policeman and injured several officers during mass disturbances in Bazar-Kurgan in June.

On three occasions in the two months since Askarov's arrest, angry groups, which allegedly included relatives of the police officer who was killed, threatened and physically attacked Askarov's lawyer. On July 23, a dozen women and men surrounded Toktakunov as he was entering the Bazar-Kurgan prosecutor's office and threatened him with violence if he did not stop representing Askarov.

On August 2, a crowd accosted Toktakunov at the detention center where Askarov was being held and made the same threat. The next day a group of people entered the Bazar-Kurgan municipal building, where Toktakunov had been meeting with city officials, and threatened to kill him if he did not stop representing Askarov.

On July 21, a group of women threw stones at Askarov's sister-in-law inside the police detention center when she tried to deliver a food parcel to him.

Local authorities did not respond to these threats and attacks, even though they took place on the premises of government municipal and law enforcement agencies.

"The attacks have sent an unambiguous threat to any attorney who might defend Askarov," Berg said. "They send the same signal to any witness who might appear in his defense, and to any court in southern Kyrgyzstan slated to hear the case."

Local authorities ignored several motions filed by Askarov's lawyer to transfer him to a pre-trial detention facility outside Bazar-Kurgan. He was eventually transferred to a facility in Jalal-Abad on August 4 or 5.

"Askarov's lawyer has filed a formal request to move the venue of the hearing to ensure safety for all parties," Berg said. "We support this request and urge the authorities to take all measures to protect witnesses and ensure access to the trial by observers."

Safety for independent monitors and witnesses at trials is a growing problem in southern Kyrgyzstan. For example, on August 13, an angry mob disrupted a hearing at the Karasuu District Court in the trial of Dilshod Muminov, a former member of the municipal council in Osh who was facing charges connected to the June violence. The mob attacked a defense witness and threatened the judge, calling for Muminov to be jailed. Although the judge called in 20 police officers, he was unable to get the situation under control and had to suspend the hearing. The trial resumed the following week.

On August 16, a group of angry women beat and kicked Abdumannap Khalilov, an ethnic Uzbek human rights defender, on the premises of the Osh Municipal Court as he sought information about several cases he was monitoring.

Human Rights Watch and other organizations have on several occasions expressed concern about police mistreatment of Askarov.  

"Unquestionably, the authorities in the south are working in a heated and volatile situation," Berg said. "That is precisely why they need to observe national and international law and not be bullied into populist decisions or vigilantism."

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