Once again, Azimjan Askarov is headed for a retrial.
According to Bir Duino, a Kyrgyz human rights organization, Askarov’s second retrial is scheduled for July 30. Originally set for July 16, the retrial was reportedly pushed back because of delays in selecting judges.
Askarov, an ethnic Uzbek from southern Kyrgyzstan, was convicted in September 2010 of participating in the murder of a policeman during the violence that erupted after the second Kyrgyz revolution. He was among dozens of prominent Uzbek community members who were arrested in 2010. Since his arrest, human rights activists have stridently argued for his innocence and amplified his case.
Those efforts led, in part, to his being honored with a Human Rights Defender Award in July 2015 by the U.S. State Department. That triggered a diplomatic crisis between Washington and Bishkek, with the Kyrgyz canceling a cooperation treaty.
The following spring, in April 2016, the UN Human Rights Committee issued a decision on a petition filed by Askarov in 2012 complaining that his rights had been violated. The UN called on Kyrgyzstan to immediately overturn his questionable conviction and release Askarov. At the time, the Kyrgyz Constitution provided for citizens to seek redress for human rights violations from international bodies and obligated the state to “take measures to their restoration and/or compensation of damage.”
The Kyrgyz Supreme Court overturned Askarov’s life sentence, but punted the case back to the Chui regional court for a retrial. After the retrial began in October 2016, Kyrgyzstan voted on and passed a package of controversial constitutional changes, including the dropping of language mandating the state adhere to international human rights bodies.
In January 2017, Askarov was convicted again and his life sentence upheld.
Earlier this month, a group of eight human rights organizations urged EU High Representative Federica Mogherini to advocate for Askarov’s release during a July 7 EU-Central Asia Ministerial meeting.
According to reporting from both RFE/RL and Eurasianet, the reason for the repeat retrial appears to be rooted in changes to the criminal code that went into effect on January 1. Eurasianet also highlighted the development in Kyrgyzstan of a probation system, designed to help deal with overcrowded prisons, which may present an avenue to release Askarov.
The current state of Kyrgyz politics could also feed into the outcome for Askarov. It’s not clear which impulses will triumph. Almazbek Atambayev was president when the first retrial took place, and he took umbrage at criticism from abroad over the case. Current President Sooronbay Jeenkbekov may look to cash in on the good will releasing Askarov could generate and use it to deflect other criticisms of his government. But at the same time, Askarov is a symbol of a set of subjects that remain difficult: interethnic relations, especially between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in country’s south, and the violence of 2010 there. Kyrgyz nationalists will not take so kindly Askarov’s release.
There are various possible outcomes from Askarov’s second retrial, ranging from a repeat of early 2017, with essentially no change to his status, all the way to a situation that sees him released from jail, either on probation or, at the highly unlikely extreme, as an innocent man.