BISHKEK -- A court in Kyrgyzstan has ordered a resumption of the investigation into the death of human rights defender and journalist Azimjan Askarov while in police custody a year ago.
Askarov died at the age of 69 in a Kyrgyz prison on July 25, 2020, of what was initially listed as respiratory problems. Kyrgyz officials later said that the death was caused by COVID-19.
The Bishkek City Court on July 27 cancelled a lower court decision that rejected a move by Askarov's lawyer to launch a probe into the rights defender's death in custody.
The Bishkek City Court's decision to send the case back to investigators came four days after several human rights organizations demanded Kyrgyz authorities conduct "an independent investigation" into how the human rights activist died.
Askarov, who was an ethnic Uzbek, was convicted of creating a mass disturbance and being involved in the murder of a police officer during deadly ethnic clashes between local Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in Kyrgyzstan's southern cities of Osh and Jalal-Abad in 2010.
Askarov, his lawyers, and human rights groups rejected the charges, saying that the journalist was not a participant in the violence and was in the area to document the clashes that left more than 400 people, mainly Uzbek, dead and thousands displaced.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee has described Askarov's death as "a stain" on the post-Soviet Central Asian country's rights record.
While the situation around human rights has improved in the country, Human Rights Watch noted in its 2021 World Report that "impunity for torture and ill-treatment remains the norm" for those held by Kyrgyz authorities.
The report called Askarov's death "one of the low points of Kyrgyzstan’s rights record" in 2020.