Once again, a court in Kyrgyzstan upheld the life sentence of Azimjan Askarov, an ethnic Uzbek human rights activist.
Askarov’s case was given a (second) new hearing due to criminal code changes that went into effect earlier this year. But Askarov wasn’t allowed to attend his own hearing and Eurasianet’s Nurjamal Djanibekova reported that even his lawyer, Valeryan Vakhitov, was briefly denied access, with court officers “claiming he did not have the proper authorization.”
Now 68, Askarov was convicted back in 2010 of organizing the violence that broke out between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in southern Kyrgyzstan. He was also convicted of involvement in the murder of a police officer during the riots. Askarov’s work, prior to his arrest, focused on investigating police abuse and monitoring prison conditions. This, his supporters argue, put him at odds with the state’s security services and his arrest was little more than retaliation.
As I wrote in 2016, as Askarov’s case headed for its first retrial: “The Askarov case is a flashpoint for Kyrgyzstani politics, dredging up subjects many in Bishkek prefer buried and shining a critical light on the state long referred to as the ‘island of democracy’ in Central Asia. At hand are issues of sovereignty and international commitments, accusations of torture and a system rigged to persecute Kyrgyzstan’s ethnic Uzbek minority, and the problems of politics and pride.”
Askarov’s case, more than any other, illustrates a series of deep, intertwined, divides: Between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in Kyrgyzstan, between rights activists and the state, between people and the powerful, and between Kyrgyzstan and the international community. This specific case has drawn some of the heaviest criticisms lobbied against Kyrgyzstan in recent times, culminating in the April 2016 decision by the United Nations Human Rights Committee that Askarov’s human rights had been violated and the body’s concurrent call to overturn his conviction.
And yet Askarov remains in jail, where his lawyers say his health has significantly deteriorated.
Next year will mark a decade since the 2010 inter-ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan, which occurred alongside the country’s second revolution.