BISHKEK — Azimjan Askarov, a well-known ethnic Uzbek human rights activist sentenced to life in prison on charges rights groups describe as trumped-up, has been transferred to a different Kyrgyz penitentiary amid reports about an abrupt worsening of his health.
The chairwoman of Kyrgyzstan’s One World-Kyrgyzstan human rights organization, Tolekan Ismailova, told RFE/RL on July 24 that an ambulance brought Askarov to a detention center in the Central Asian state’s capital, Bishkek, that is better equipped to administer medical services.
According to Ismailova, Askarov will be examined by the facility’s medical personnel and a decision will be made if he is to stay at the detention center for further treatment or returned back to his cell in the detention center where he has served several years of his life sentence.
In recent days, Askarov’s lawyer, Valeryan Vakhitov, and the human rights organization Front Line Defenders have raised concerns over Askarov’s health, saying the 69-year-old activist is in very poor condition amid the COVID-19 outbreak in Kyrgyzstan.
Askarov, who also contributed to independent news websites, has been behind bars for almost a decade after a Kyrgyz court sentenced him 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.
In May, Human Rights Watch said Askarov “suffers from cardiac and respiratory conditions and has not received appropriate medical attention in prison.” It also warned that he was at high risk of contracting COVID-19, a disease that disproportionately affects older people and individuals with underlying illnesses.
Ismailova said at the time that 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.”
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 the activist should be released immediately and his conviction quashed.
However, Askarov’s conviction was upheld after several appeals.