The decision by the Chuy Regional Court of Kyrgyzstan on 24 January 2017 to uphold the life sentence of human rights defender Azimzhan Askarov constitutes a miscarriage of justice, and has compounded the multiple violations of his human rights, the ICJ said today.
The Court ruling was made in defiance of a decision of the UN Human Rights Committee, which had affirmed these serious violations.
The ICJ calls on the authorities of the Kyrgyz Republic to respect its international human rights obligations in this case.
Azimzhan Askarov (photo) should have access to an immediate and effective appeal against the decision of the Chuy Regional Court.
Violations of his rights should be remedied and just compensation provided.
Azimzhan Askarov was convicted of participation in murder, organization of mass disturbances and incitement to ethnic hatred and sentenced to life imprisonment in 2011, following an unfair trial, arbitrary detention and torture.
The re-hearing of the case before the Chuy Regional Court followed the findings of the UN Human Rights Committee that his arrest, detention and trial breached Kyrgyzstan’s legal obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), including the prohibition on torture or other ill-treatment, the prohibition on arbitrary detention, and the right to fair trial.
The ICJ has closely monitored the case. Representatives of the ICJ observed several court hearings, including during the re-examination.
The ICJ regrets that the re-examination of Azimzhan Askarov’s case did not remedy the violations of his human rights found by the Human Rights Committee.
The court failed to undertake a rigorous study of both defence and prosecution cases.
Rather, it appeared to take the prosecution case at face value, thus undermining the presumption of innocence and the principle of equality of arms.
Many motions of the defence remained unaddressed or were rejected without cause.
These included a motion asking that the findings of the UN Human Rights Committee be evaluated by the Court, as they were crucial for the re-opening the case by the Supreme Court.
The Chuy Regional Court not only failed to examine the findings of the Human Rights Committee, but summarily rejected the Committee’s findings that Azimzhan Askarov had been arbitrarily arrested, held in inhumane conditions and subjected to torture.
The Court in its decision doubted the truth of Azimzhan Askarov’s statement that he had been repeatedly tortured, on the basis that three State psychiatrists concluded that he was “deceitful and subservient” and the defence had not produced witnesses or other evidence to rebut this point.
The Court heard several witnesses who stated that they had initially given false statements implicating Azimzhan Askarov because they were intimidated or subjected to ill-treatment.
The Court did not take any action to investigate these allegations.
During the re-examination of his case Azimzhan Askarov was kept in a metal cage and had no immediate opportunity to speak without hindrance with his lawyer.
Askarov, an Uzbek speaker, visibly struggled to speak in Kyrgyz, but no interpretation was provided for him.
Azimzhan Askarov, a prominent human rights defender, was convicted of murder and incitement to ethnic hatred and sentenced to life imprisonment in December 2011.
The central charges concerned allegations of his participation in a murder of Myktybek Sulayamanov, a police officer, during the 2010 ethnic clashes in the South of Kyrgyzstan.
The ICJ observed the appeal hearing in the case before the Supreme Court on 20 December 2011.
Based on the results of the mission as well as the documents of the case, the ICJ published a detailed report on the arrest, detention and trial of Azimzhan Askarov.
In March 2016, the UN Human Rights Committee issued a decision in regard to Askarov’s complaint and found violations of Articles 7 (freedom from torture), Article 9 (prohibition of arbitrary detention); Article 10 (right to humane treatment in detention), Article 14 (right to a fair trial) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The Human Rights Committee, which in March 2016 heard a complaint brought by Askarov, called for his conviction to be quashed and if necessary a new trial to be held in line with the principles of fair trial, presumption of innocence and other procedural safeguards.
On 12 July 2016, the Supreme Court ordered a further reconsideration of the case on appeal, which resulted in upholding Askarov’s verdict and sentence.
Following the decision of 24 January, the defence said they would appeal this decision of the Chuy Court in the Supreme Court of the Kyrgyz Republic. Kyrgyzstan is a party to the ICCPR and as such is bound by this treaty to guarantee the rights it enshrines and to provide effective remedies when these rights are violated.
The decision of the Committee is an authoritative interpretation of the ICCPR which may serve as evidence in court and whose findings should not be ignored.
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