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Open Society Foundations Statement on Death of Human Rights Defender Azimjan Askarov in Prison in Kyrgyzstan

NEW YORK—The Open Society Foundations are both deeply saddened and outraged by the death in prison in Kyrgyzstan of human rights defender Azimjan Askarov, a courageous and inspiring advocate detained since 2010 on trumped-up charges.

Kyrgyzstan’s state penitentiary service said Askarov, aged 69, died on Saturday in a prison clinic, a day after he was hospitalized with pneumonia.

“Our hearts go out to Azimjan Askarov’s wife and family at this terrible time,” said Patrick Gaspard, president of the Open Society Foundations. “On top of the cruelty of the decade he spent behind bars, we are appalled by the authorities’ failure to provide him with timely medical care or access to his family as his condition worsened.”

Askarov, an ethnic Uzbek and director of a local human rights organization, had been documenting the violence that erupted in southern Kyrgyzstan in 2010 when he was detained, tortured, and sentenced by a sham trial to life imprisonment.

Askarov subsequently took his case to the UN Human Rights Committee, where he was represented by his local legal team and by lawyers from the Open Society Justice Initiative. In 2016, the Committee found that Askarov had been arbitrarily detained, held in inhumane conditions, tortured, and mistreated, and ordered his immediate release and the quashing of his conviction.

Askarov’s lawyers in Kyrgyzstan repeatedly appealed against his conviction and sought his release following the UN Human Rights Committee ruling, but their efforts were rebuffed ultimately by Kyrgyzstan’s Supreme Court.

Masha Lisitsyna, lead lawyer on the case at the Justice Initiative, said: “Askarov’s case has become a sad marker of the dismal state of the rule of law in Kyrgyzstan, including its failure to honor its treaty commitments to the UN Human Rights Committee.” 

Shamil Ibraghimov, director of the Soros Foundation–Kyrgyzstan, said: “Azimjan was a gentle man who showed remarkable courage during his imprisonment. His unnecessary death is an indictment of a profoundly flawed justice system, and a sad reminder of Kyrgyzstan’s continued failure to properly address the legacy of the ethnic violence of 2010.”

In 2015, the U.S. State Department awarded Askarov its Human Rights Defender Award, highlighting his work before his arrest documenting widespread police brutality. In 2012, he was given the International Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists. He was also an Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience.

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