Several human rights organizations, marking the first anniversary of the death of journalist Azimjan Askarov while in custody, have demanded Kyrgyz authorities conduct an independent investigation into how the human rights activist died.
Askarov died at the age of 69 in a Kyrgyz prison in July 2020 from what was initially listed as respiratory problems. Kyrgyz officials said later that his death was caused by COVID-19.
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In a joint statement on July 23, Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Committee to Protect Journalists, Front Line Defenders, Human Rights Movement: Bir Duino-Kyrgyzstan, and the International Partnership for Human Rights said that the Kyrgyz authorities’ inquiry into Askarov’s death was "neither independent nor impartial as required under international law."
“Kyrgyz authorities have failed to investigate human rights violations that led to Askarov’s death,” said Philippe Dam, Europe and Central Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.
"A full year has passed without any sign of an independent and credible investigation into the circumstances of his death and the human rights violations he suffered," Dam said.
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 the 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, which left more than 400 people, mainly Uzbek, dead and thousands displaced.
“Askarov was arbitrarily detained, tortured, and denied justice for over a decade,” said Gulnoza Said, Europe and Central Asia program coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists. “His death in prison should not remain unaccounted for.”
The UN's 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.