Human rights defender Azimjan Askarov perished in a prison clinic in Kyrgyzstan on July 25. The sixty-nine-year-old was hospitalized with pneumonia just one day prior to his death, but had been in need of medical treatment for a long time. In the time leading up to his death, human rights groups and others had repeatedly called on Kyrgyz authorities to release Askarov, most recently on humanitarian grounds as his health was evidently failing and concerns rose that he would ultimately die behind bars.
Since news of Askarov’s death reached me, my thoughts have been with his tragically bereaved family. Nothing can bring our colleague back, but the family deserves to see justice for this meaningless death.
Bjørn Engesland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee
– Askarov’s death in prison was a willed tragedy, the sole responsibility for which lies with Kyrgyz authorities. For years on end, we have campaigned for Askarov’s release, now we will focus our efforts on holding accountable those officials who are responsible for his wrongful imprisonment and death in prison, said Engesland.
Azimjan Askarov was a well-respected and celebrated human rights defender from southern Kyrgyzstan. His human rights work included documentation of abuses at the hands of law enforcement and poor prison conditions among other things. In June 2010, inter-ethnic violence broke out between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in the south of Kyrgyzstan. The violence left several hundred killed, thousands wounded and displaced. Azimjan Askarov, himself ethnic Uzbek, was at the time documenting the events. On June 15, law-enforcement personnel detained Askarov. He was later that year found guilty, of among other charges, complicity in the murder of a policeman, and sentenced to life in prison. In 2016, the United Nations Human Rights Committee found that his imprisonment was arbitrary, and urged Kyrgyzstan to release him. As late as May this year, the Kyrgyz Supreme Court ruled to uphold Askarov’s life sentence and keep him imprisoned.