Imprisoned human rights defender Azimjan Askarov is in grave physical condition and requires urgent treatment, according to one of his lawyers. Askarov is being confined in the basement of Penal Colony No. 47 in Bishkek, his lawyer Evgeniya Krapivina tells the Vechernii Bishkek newspaper, rather than in the cell normally reserved for those serving life sentences.
Askarov, 60, a dedicated monitor of police misconduct working near the southern city of Jalal-Abad, was arrested in June 2010 in connection with the deaths of police officers during ethnic violence that month between local Kyrgyz and Uzbeks. According to multiple reports, Askarov, who is Uzbek, was beaten, tortured, and threatened while in detention. Observers also witnessed physical attacks on him during his trial, including in court buildings.
Rights activists have repeatedly denounced Askarov’s conviction for multiple and blatant violations of due process. Nonetheless, on December 20 the Kyrgyz Supreme Court denied his final appeal.
Physicians for Human Rights and the Open Society Justice Initiative have issued a joint statement calling for Askarov to be released due to his physical condition. In an open letter, co-signed by 50 other human rights groups, the organizations called on President Almazbek Atambayev to grant Askarov “an immediate pardon on humanitarian grounds, or to ensure his release from prison in any other way acceptable under the laws of the Kyrgyz Republic.” [Editor’s Note: The Open Society Justice Initiative is a part of the Open Society Foundations. EurasiaNet.org operates under the auspices of the Open Society Foundations.] The two organizations sent a similar letter requesting pressure for a pardon to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton.
Drawing on a recent medical evaluation, the letter explicitly links Askarov’s physical condition to his treatment in detention.
A renowned US medical expert recently examined Mr. Askarov and concluded that he has suffered severe and lasting physical injuries as a result of his arrest and incarceration. He needs immediate medical help for persistent visual loss, traumatic brain injury, and spinal injury. In addition, he requires immediate evaluation for chest pain and shortness of breath, symptoms of which are strongly suggestive of coronary artery disease and could be life threatening without immediate treatment.
Previous hopes for a pardon for Askarov – the only plausible reprieve given Kyrgyzstan’s poisoned political atmosphere regarding the “June events” – went unmet under former President Roza Otunbayeva.
Atambayev, who has sounded a cautiously progressive note on ethnic politics, declined to comment on the Supreme Court’s decision to reject Askarov’s final appeal, noting only that the courts are a separate branch of government, and that focus should be placed on judicial reform.