Detained Since: June 15, 2010.
Charges: Instigating ethnic hatred, inciting disorder, and inciting the crowd to attack a police officer.
Sentence: Life in Prison
Biography: Azimjan Askarov is an Uzbek political activist and journalist and the director of the human rights organization Vozdukh (Air) in southern Kyrgyzstan. In June 2010 violence broke out between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz, and people from both groups were killed. Despite the fact that more ethnic Uzbeks were killed and ethnic Uzbek neighborhoods attacked and destroyed during the days of violence, the subsequent investigations, detentions, arrests and prosecutions reveal an ethnic bias by the Kyrgyzstani authorities. During that time he was arrested and charged with being an accomplice to the murder of a police officer.
Mr. Askarov was subjected to an unfair trial where he was not allowed to call witnesses that could testify to his innocence. Before the trial he was beaten by prison guards and told not to "speak out" during the court proceedings. He is currently serving a life sentence on charges that Amnesty International believes were fabricated against him to keep him from carrying out his human rights work. The sentence of life in prison was upheld on appeal, including by the Supreme Court. His lawyers are trying to get the case reopened in light of new evidence. While in custody, he has been tortured and mistreated, and his family and lawyer have been threatened and harassed. He is in poor health. His relatives and legal representatives have been harassed and assaulted for supporting him.
Advocate: Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA)
Advocacy Partner: Amnesty International
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) launched its annual Free The Press campaign on April 2, seeking to raise awareness about Azimjan Askarov, who is imprisoned in Kyrgyzstan, and four other "intrepid" reporters behind bars in other countries (April 3, 2018, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty).
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee have signed a letter urging the European Union to raise Azimjan Askarov's case at the upcoming European Union-Kyrgyz Republic Cooperation Council (December 6, 2018, Human Rights Watch).
The One Free Press Coalition, which is comprised of a dozen leading news organizations including TIME, Reuters, the Associated Press, Forbes, and HuffPost included Azimjan Askarov on its monthly 10 Most Urgent list for April. The list identifies 10 journalists around the world who represent the most severe examples of abuses to press freedom or cases of injustice (April 1, 2019, One Free Press Coalition).
A court in Kyrgyzstan upheld the life sentence of imprisoned ethnic Uzbek rights activist Azimjan Askarov, in spite of recent changes to the criminal code (July 30, 2019, Eurasianet).
Kyrgyzstan's Supreme Court started to hear the appeal of Azimjan Askarov, adjorning until April 6 (Voice of America, February 25, 2020).
A bipartisan group of 11 U.S. senators wrote to the President of Kyrgyzstan, Sooronbay Jeenbekov, urging the release of Azimjan Askarov amid the Covid-19 pandemic (June 30, 2020, Ranking Member Menendez Press Release).
At the age of 69, jailed human rights activist Azimjan Askarov died in custody on July 25, 2020 (July 25, 2020, Radio Free Europe).