The United Nations Human Rights Committee on April 21 urged Kyrgyzstan to immediately free jailed activist Azimjan Askarov, who it said has been subjected to mistreatment and torture since his imprisonment in 2010.
That appeal is bound to provoke deep irritation in Kyrgyzstan, which has reacted combatively to all international appeals over this particular case.
The Human Rights Committee said in a statement that 18 international human rights experts had found that Kyrgyzstan routinely flouted articles of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights in their treatment of Askarov.
In September 2010, Askarov, who is an ethnic Uzbek, was sentenced to life imprisonment for what Kyrgyz authorities say was his role in inciting the mob killing of a police officer amid ethnic unrest in southern Kyrgyzstan in June of that year.
Echoing the positions adopted earlier by advocacy groups and Western governments, the UN rights committee said Askarov had been denied the basic right to properly prepare for his trial and criticized the manner of his initial detention.
“Askarov was initially detained at the police station where the deceased officer was based and … no specific security measures were in place to safeguard him,” the UN rights committee statement said.
Committee members ruled that independent medical examinations suggested Askarov had been subjected to acts of torture.
A subsequent inquiry in 2013 was found to be lacking “the element of impartiality, as it interviewed more than 100 law enforcement officers, judges, court clerks and prosecutors but failed to interview [Askarov’s] lawyers, human rights defenders who visited him in prison, and his relatives,” the committee said.
Going by recent form, Kyrgyzstan is unlikely to take this parade of charges well.
The US State Department’s 2015 country report on human rights practices in Kyrgyzstan, released earlier this month, listed a variety of problem areas, ranging from poor prison conditions, harassment of rights activists and pressure on the media, and all of this seeped in “an atmosphere of impunity for officials in the security services and elsewhere in government who committed abuses and engaged in corrupt practices.”
The State Department report also dwelled on Askarov’s case at length, describing him as a political prisoner.
Although the language of the country report tends to vary little from year to year, Kyrgyzstan responded on this occasion with a long and inflammatory statement accusing the United States of trying to use “political blackmail.”
“We regard the US State Department report, as far as it applies to Kyrgyzstan, to be politically motivated and an unjustified and inappropriate attempt to apply pressure on the existing political system of Kyrgyzstan,” the Foreign Ministry in Bishkek said in its statement.
Referring to the regime of deposed President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was ousted from power in 2010, the Foreign Ministry accused the State Department of preferring “the previous authorities in Kyrgyzstan, who beat, killed and even burned members of the opposition alive, maimed and killed journalists, and shamelessly plundered the country.”
The emotive and frequently error-riddled statement is a stark indication of the extreme sensitivity of the leadership currently running Kyrgyzstan.
A State Department human rights award to Askarov last year prompted Kyrgyzstan to repeal a cornerstone 1993 cooperation treaty between the two countries.
This latest statement on Askarov is particularly embarrassing since Kyrgyzstan itself is currently one of the rotating members of the United Nations Human Rights Council, a stint that is set to expire in 2018.
For all that, it is hard to see the government having any immediate change of heart. President Almazbek Atambayev in particular has staked much of his reputation on ensuring that Askarov remains behind bars, regardless of the international community’s protests.