A witness at an appeal hearing into the case of jailed rights activist Azimjan Askarov told a court in Kyrgyzstan’s Chui court on November 1 that she was forced to testify against him under duress.
Minura Mamadalieva, who was also Askarov’s co-defendant at the initial trial following ethnic unrest in 2010, said that she yielded to pressure after she and her six-year old son were subjected to mistreatment by the police, 24.kg reported.
Askarov, an ethnic Uzbek, was given a life sentence in September 2010 after being found guilty of inciting a crowd to murder a police officer on June 13 that year during deadly inter-communal riots in the southern town of Bazar-Korgon. He has always steadfastly maintained his innocence.
By recanting, Mamadalieva has placed further strain on the state’s deeply compromised case against Askarov, whose plight has drawn indignations from many international organizations and governments.
Speaking to the court, Mamadalieva said she was detained on June 26, 2010, and taken to Bazar Korgon police station, where she claimed she was ordered to stump up $5,000. Mamadalieva also said she was told by police that Askarov had testified against her, somehow implicating her in the violence, so that she do the same and offer testimony placing the activist at the bridge where the policeman is said to have been murdered.
“But I did not see Askarov there, I was not there. They made me sign to all this,” she said. “They said they would put my child behind bars. The police beat us, the detainees, they almost made us eat dirt. Including Askarov. This is the kind of unbridled behavior the Bazar-Korgon police station was getting up to.”
Later during the same hearing, yet another erstwhile prosecution witness recanted and accused police of torturing detainees.
Fukurzhan Mirzaliyev said he was arrested June 15, 2010, but that he has hazy memories of what happened to him because of the severe beatings.
"I was lured from my home by the head of the local district. He told me that representatives from [the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] wanted to meet us representatives of the Uzbek community,” Mirzaliyev was quoted as saying by 24.kg. “I know Azimjan Askarov as a very honorable man. I don’t know if he was on that bridge on the day the policeman was killed. I was not there.”
The appeal hearings at Chui court are taking place at the behest of the UN Human Rights Committee, which said in an unusually sternly worded statement in April that Kyrgyzstan had grossly flouted the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights in its treatment of Askarov. The committee said Askarov was denied the right to properly prepare for his trial and criticized the manner of his initial detention.
The decision to allow an appeal to go ahead in the end, however, was ultimately a political one. And whether Askarov is to be released — either by being found to have been victim of an unfair trial or on a technicality — will be similarly contingent on calculations performed by the country’s leadership.
On one hand, Bishkek is under pressure to placate the international community, which has called repeatedly for Askarov’s release. At the same time, there is a nationalist constituency that needs to be placated and allowing Askarov go after this many years could be politically hazardous.