Kyrgyz Supreme Court Hears Appeal Of Jailed Rights Activist Askarov

BISHKEK — Kyrgyzstan’s Supreme Court has started its final hearing in the appeal of ethnic Uzbek human rights activist Azimjan Askarov against a life sentence that he and his supporters have called politically motivated.

Askarov’s supporters and representatives from several foreign embassies attended the hearing in Bishkek on May 13.

The Supreme Court initially began the appeal hearing in February, but quickly adjourned to have more time to get acquainted with new materials in the case.

Askarov, who turns 69 this month, has been behind bars for nearly 10 years on what human rights and media-freedom watchdogs describe as trumped-up charges.

Ahead of the Supreme Court hearing, human rights defenders reiterated their calls for the activist’s release, saying his health had dramatically deteriorated.

Human Rights Watch said Askarov “suffers from cardiac and respiratory conditions and has not received appropriate medical attention in prison,” and warned that he was at high risk of contracting COVID-19, which disproportionately affects older people and those with underlying illnesses.

“There is also one more compelling reason: it is the right and just thing to do,” the New York-based watchdog added, as Askarov was sentenced to life following “a deeply flawed trial and credible allegations of torture which were never investigated.”

Prominent Kyrgyz rights activist Tolekan Ismailova said it was “heartbreaking to see him — at high risk due to his declining health and having endured torture — losing hope for a fair trial and release.”

In 2010, a Kyrgyz court sentenced Askarov to life in prison after finding him guilty of creating a mass disturbance and involvement in the murder of a police officer during deadly ethnic clashes between local Uzbeks and Kyrgyz.

More than 450 people, mainly ethnic Uzbeks, were killed and tens of thousands more were displaced during the violence.

The UN Human Rights Committee has found that Askarov was arbitrarily detained, denied a fair trial, and tortured, and ruled that he should be released immediately and his conviction quashed.

However, Askarov’s conviction was upheld after several previous appeals in lower courts.

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