Case of Kyrgyz activist sentenced to life for ethnic clashes stalls

Azimjon Askarov in the dock – Kyrgyzstan’s Supreme Court postponed again today an appeal by Jalalabad-based human rights activist Azimjon Askarov.

Askarov was sentenced to life imprisonment for his involvement in ethnic clashes in southern Kyrgyzstan in June 2010.

His lawyer, Nurbek Toktakunov, said that he did not know why the Kyrgyz Supreme Court had postponed the appeal hearing, and that no new date had been set.

Askarov and four other ethnic Uzbeks from Jalalabad Region were sentenced to life imprisonment by the Tash-Kumyr District court for killing ethnic Kyrgyz police officer Mukhtarbek Sulaymonov and injuring 16 other police officers in June 2010. Two other men were sentenced to 20 years and one to nine years for the same crimes.

After the convicts filed their appeal, relatives of the murdered officer warned the Supreme Court that ethnic clashes would start again in southern Kyrgyzstan if it were to overturn their sentences.

Nevertheless the Kyrgyz Supreme Court is under pressure from the international community to hold fair hearings – the US embassy in Kyrgyzstan, for example, has said it is following Askarov’s case and wants impartial hearings – and Askarov’s appeal duly began on 26 January this year.

In March, Czech NGO People in Need awarded Askarov a prize, and the imprisoned activist took the opportunity to reiterate that he had been convicted for defending human rights, speaking the truth and criticising the government.

Askarov claims that local authorities orchestrated the violence between ethnic Uzbeks and ethnic Kyrgyz in Osh and Jalalabad in June 2010. He believes that a major consignment of arms was brought into southern Kyrgyzstan in May, about which he informed local authorities.

Askarov’s supporters believe that the activist was convicted for documenting the involvement of local authorities and law-enforcement agencies in the violence against ethnic Uzbeks.

According to Kyrgyz human rights activists, 435 people were killed during the violence in 2010, of whom 321 were ethnic Uzbeks.