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Kyrgyzstan Ends U.S. Cooperation Agreement Amid Human Rights Dispute


Azimjon Askarov in an undated photo
Azimjon Askarov in an undated photo

Kyrgyzstan has formally terminated a 1993 agreement on cooperation with the United States, a move that comes days after Bishkek protested a U.S. decision to grant a prestigious human rights award to an imprisoned Kyrgyz activist.

The Kyrgyz government’s press service says Prime Minister Temir Sariev on July 21 signed a government directive terminating the agreement on Cooperation To Facilitate The Provision Of Assistance.

Kyrgyzstan’s Foreign Ministry on July 17 protested Washington’s decision to confer the 2014 Human Rights Defender Award on Azimjon Askarov, a journalist and rights activist who is serving a life sentence in a Bishkek prison on charges of “creating a threat to civil peace and stability in society.”

Askarov, an ethnic Uzbek, was convicted following interethnic clashes in southern Kyrgyzstan in June 2010 when more than 400 people were killed. He says he was tortured by police.

A State Department spokesperson said in e-mailed comments that the United States is “disappointed” in Bishkek’s cancellation of the bilateral agreement, adding that the move could put assistance programs that benefit the Kyrgyz people "in jeopardy.”

These include “programs to address violent extremism, increase economic growth and job creation, improve the educational system, and support the continued democratic development of Kyrgyzstan,” the spokesperson said. “We will continue to engage with and support the people of Kyrgyzstan."

Kyrgyzstan, which recently joined the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union, said last week that the U.S. decision to present the human rights award to Askarov "seriously damages" bilateral ties between the United States and one of Central Asia's more democratic post-Soviet republics.

It said that the "awarding of Askarov is considered a deliberate action against the strengthening of interethnic peace and harmony in our country."

Askarov is an ethnic Uzbek, a group that represents more than 10 percent of Kyrgyzstan's nearly 6 million people.

The State Department spokesperson said on July 21 that the two sides “clearly” disagree on the issue of Askarov’s award, but that “it is our ability to talk about our differences of opinion that have made the relationship strong.”

Askarov's son, Sherzod, accepted the award on July 16 on behalf of his father, who founded a group more than a decade ago to monitor alleged police brutality but has been in jail for more than four years on charges relating to deadly ethnic clashes in southern Kyrgyzstan in 2010.

The following day, the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry handed a protest note to U.S. Charge d'Affaires Richard Miles.

In a statement issued on July 15 ahead of the awards ceremony, the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry stressed that Askarov was convicted by Kyrgyz courts of inciting ethnic hatred, organizing mass disorder, and complicity in the murder of a law-enforcement officer during the violence, in Kyrgyzstan's southern regions of Osh and Jalal-Abad.

More than 450 people, mostly but not exclusively ethnic Uzbeks, were killed and tens or even hundreds of thousands more displaced by the unrest. Dozens of people are still missing.

The State Department describes Askarov as "a uniting figure in the human rights community, bringing together people of all ethnicities and backgrounds to urge the government of Kyrgyzstan to take effective action towards creating a sustainable peace between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz."

In its annual human rights report released last month, the State Department denounced a “continued denial of justice" in connection with the deadly ethnic clashes in Osh as a serious rights issue.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service
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