|Known for||Human rights activism, allegedly political imprisonment|
|Awards||Homo Homini Award (2011)
CPJ International Press Freedom Award (2012)
Human Rights Defender (2015)
Azimzhan Askarov (Uzbek: Azimjon Asqarov, Азимжон Асқаров; born 1951) is an ethnically Uzbek Kyrgyzstani political activist who founded the group Vozduh in 2002 to investigate police brutality. During the 2010 South Kyrgyzstan ethnic clashes, which primarily targeted people of the Uzbek nationality, Askarov worked to document the violence.
He was subsequently arrested and prosecuted on charges of creating mass disturbances, incitement of ethnic hatred, and complicity in murder. Following a trial protested by several international human rights groups for irregularities—including alleged torture and the courtroom intimidation of witnesses by police—Askarov was given a life sentence, which he is currently serving. In November 2010, Askarov's health was reported to be rapidly deteriorating as a result of his confinement. Numerous groups have advocated on his behalf, including Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, People In Need, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and Amnesty International, the latter of which designated him a prisoner of conscience.
In 2015, the U.S. conferred the 2014 Human Rights Defender Award on Askarov. The Kyrgyz government protested this decision and formally terminated a 1993 agreement on cooperation between the U.S. and Kyrgyzstan. On 12 July 2016, the Supreme Court of Kyrgyzstan revoked the life sentence against Askarov and sent his case to the Chui Oblast Court for review. He was resentenced for life on 24 January 2017.
Azimzhan Askarov was born in 1951 in the village Bazar-Korgon, Kyrgyzstan. He attended an arts college in Tashkent. After getting his degree Askarov worked as a painter and decorator for 15 years. In the early 1990s, he began writing about human rights issues in a local newspaper. He is married to Hadicha Askarova and they have three children.
Human rights work
Askarov has worked as a human rights activist since the mid-1990s. In 2002, he founded the group Vozduh (Air) to monitor the conditions of Kyrgyz prisons. Working primarily in the area of Bazar-Korgon, Askarov directed this group until the time of his arrest and was able to initiate new investigations of several cases of police brutality and torture. Several police officers were dismissed from their posts as a result of Askarov's investigations. Askarov has stated that in 2006, a prosecutor's investigator sued Askarov following an article he wrote publicizing torture allegations; the six-month court case ended with a verdict in Askarov's favor. As a result, Askarov claims, "Enemies in the law enforcement community were constantly looking for an opportunity to shut me down."
Arrest and trial
In July 2010, Kyrgyzstan saw an outbreak of ethnic violence in which as many as 2,000 people, primarily Uzbeks, were killed, and hundreds of thousands displaced. Following the violence, dozens of Uzbek community and religious leaders were arrested by the Kyrgyzstani government and accused of inciting ethnic violence, among them Azimzhan Askarov, who had been filming killings and arson attacks during the riots. Askarov then distributed the video to international media and accused the Kyrgyz military of complicity in the killings.
Askarov was tried along with other human rights activists before a court in the Nooken District of the Jalal-Abad Province. An observer from Human Rights Watch stated that both the defendants and the witnesses evidenced fresh bruises and appeared to have been tortured. The observer also stated that members of the trial's audience openly threatened and assaulted Askarov, other defendants, and their lawyers inside the courtroom, and that local law enforcement refused to intervene. Askarov's lawyer, Nurbek Toktagunov, stated that he was also approached by the relatives of a police officer and threatened with violence if he continued to defend Askarov, leading Amnesty International to issue an appeal for the safety of both Toktagunov and Askarov.
Askarov testified himself that he had been beaten and tortured while in police custody, and his lawyer reported that Askarov had further bruises on his back. On 4 November 2010, however, the prosecutor's office held a press conference to deny any beatings had taken place.
Imprisonment and health
On 10 November 2010, Askarov's sentence was upheld by an appellate court. Two days later, Amnesty International reported that Askarov's health was failing rapidly; he was soon moved from his prison hospital to a hospital in Bishkek. Members of his family expressed concern that he was receiving inadequate care from prison authorities.
On 8 February 2011, the Kyrgyzstani Supreme Court agreed to hear new evidence in Askarov's case; however, his hearing was suspended. On 11 April 2011, his appeal hearing was postponed for the second time. On 20 December 2011, the Kyrgyzstani Supreme Court upheld Askarov's sentence.
Askarov's lawyer then said he would protest the Supreme Court's decision in the UN Human Rights Council, however Askarov himself was against this, feared of not being able to survive until the day of decision. Askarov insists on the review of his case in the Kyrgyz legislature.
On 24 January 2017, a Kyrgyz court found Askarov guilty and sentenced him life in prison.
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Front Line, International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR), and the International Federation for Human Rights have all denounced the charges against Askarov. The Committee to Protect Journalists called for him and fellow detainee Ulugbek Abdusalomov to be released, and for the officers who arrested them to be investigated for "abuse of office". His cause has also been championed by American actor Martin Sheen. The US Embassy in Bishkek also put pressure on the Kyrgyz government to hold "impartial hearings" on Askarov's appeal. Reporters Without Borders has called for his immediate release.
On 8 March 2011, People In Need awarded him the Homo Homini Award "in recognition of a dedication to the promotion of human rights, democracy and non-violent solutions to political conflicts." In an acceptance speech written from prison, Askarov responded, "I cried like a baby. There are no words to express my heartfelt joy. After much suffering, torture and humiliation, I realized once again the high social value of fighting for human rights and justice!"
In May 2011, an exhibition of Askarov's paintings opened in Bishkek, organized by his wife and various Kyrgyz human rights organizations. The paintings focus on "the inhabitants of the Fergana valley and scenes from their everyday lives."
In 2012, Askarov won the International Press Freedom Award of the Committee to Protect Journalists. The award recognizes journalists who show courage in defending press freedom despite facing attacks, threats, or imprisonment.
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- "Human rights groups condemn Kyrgyzstan activist jailing". BBC News. 16 September 2010. Retrieved 17 April 2011.
- "Kyrgyzstan: Further Information: Prisoner of Conscience on Brink of Death: Azimzhan Askarov". Amnesty International. 12 November 2010. Retrieved 17 April 2011.
- "Kyrgyzstan ends U.S. cooperation agreement amid human rights dispute". RFE/RL. 21 July 2015. Retrieved 29 July 2015.
- "Kyrgyz high court revokes activist's sentence, sends case to lower court". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 12 July 2016. Retrieved 12 July 2016.
- "Azimjan Askarov, Winner of the Homo Homini Award - A Profile". People in Need. 2011. Archived from the original on 10 March 2012. Retrieved 17 April 2011.
- "В Киргизии уже не стреляют, но мародерство продолжается". Segodnya.ua. Archived from the original on 17 June 2010. Retrieved 15 June 2010.
- Andrew E. Kramer (1 July 2010). "Uzbeks Accused of Inciting Violence in Kyrgyzstan". The New York Times. Archived from the original on May 11, 2011. Retrieved 16 April 2011.
- Romain Goguelin and Yuras Karmanau (19 June 2010). "U.S. envoy urges action on Kyrgyz riots". The Washington Times. Retrieved 6 August 2011.
- Richard Boudreaux (21 June 2010). "Kyrgyzstan Tears Down Barricades". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 17 April 2011.
- "Kyrgyzstan: Ensure Safety, Due Process for Detained Activist". Human Rights Watch. 23 June 2010. Retrieved 6 August 2011.
- "Human Rights Defender Beaten in Custody: Azimzhan Askarov". Amnesty International. 25 June 2010. Archived from the original on 8 August 2011. Retrieved 6 August 2011.
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- "Askarov Case". International Federation for Human Rights. 30 March 2011. Archived from the original on 1 May 2011. Retrieved 17 April 2011.
- "Case of Kyrgyz activist sentenced to life for ethnic clashes stalls". uznews.net. 11 April 2011. Retrieved 17 April 2011.
- "Верховный суд оставил в силе пожизненный приговор Азимжану Аскарову (Russian)". Kloop. 2011-12-20.
- "Правозащитника Аскарова впервые навестил депутат парламента (Russian)". Kloop. 2012-02-06.
- "Kyrgyz court confirms life sentence for journalist". Fox News.
- Muzaffar Suleymanov (11 March 2011). "Otunbayeva must put words into action in Askarov case". Committee to Protect Journalists. Archived from the original on 18 April 2011. Retrieved 17 April 2011.
- "Kyrgyzstan: Update - Unfair trial and fear of torture of human rights defender Mr Azimjan Askarov". Front Line. 13 September 2010. Retrieved 17 April 2011.
- Committee to Protect Journalists (23 June 2010). "Kyrgyzstan detains journalists as violence continues". Archived from the original on 19 April 2011. Retrieved 17 April 2011.
- "Actor Martin Sheen takes up cause of ethnic Uzbek rights advocate". centralasianewswire.com. 31 May 2011. Retrieved 17 April 2011.
- "Call for humane treatment for jailed journalists and respect for press charter". Reporters Without Borders. 19 August 2010. Retrieved 18 April 2011.
- "Exhibition Opens Of Paintings By Jailed Kyrgyz Rights Activist". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 17 May 2011. Retrieved 24 May 2011.
- Ayim Baky (2011-05-17). "В Бишкеке выставлены картины осужденного Азимжана Аскарова (Russian)". Kloop.
- "CPJ International Press Freedom Awards 2011". Committee to Protect Journalists. Archived from the original on September 22, 2012. Retrieved September 22, 2012.