Imprisoned Rights Defender in Kyrgyzstan Needs Immediate Medical Treatment

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NEW YORK—The Open Society Justice Initiative and Physicians for Human Rights are gravely concerned about the health of Azimjan Askarov, a 60-year old human rights defender currently serving a life sentence in Kyrgyzstan following a manifestly unfair trial.

An evaluation of Askarov last month by Dr. Sondra Crosby, a US physician, determined that Askarov has sustained severe and lasting physical injuries since his arrest on June 15, 2010, and that he has symptoms of potentially life threatening chronic illness that would require immediate treatment.

Dr. Crosby is a consultant to Physicians for Human Rights. She is one of the world’s leading medical experts on evaluating trauma sustained by torture victims.

Askarov, aged 60, is the director of Vozdukh, a human rights group based in Bazar Korgan in southern Kyrgyzstan. An ethnic Uzbek, he was detained on 15 June 2010 in the aftermath of an outbreak of ethnic violence in the region that resulted in at least 470 deaths. After his arrest, he reported being beaten and humiliated by local police. He was subsequently charged with complicity in the murder of a police officer and sentenced to life in prison.

Dr. Crosby’s independent medical assessment was carried out at the request of the Open Society Justice Initiative, which is now working with Askarov’s local lawyer in finalizing a complaint on his behalf to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. She concluded that Askarov’s injuries are consistent with his account of being subject to torture by police after his arrest.

Askarov’s trial in 2010 was marred by physical attacks on his legal team and threats against defense witnesses by groups identifying themselves as relatives of the deceased policeman. The proceedings were widely condemned as unfair by human rights groups and other international observers. The court’s verdict was upheld in December 2011 by Kyrgyzstan’s Supreme Court.

James A. Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative, said: “We are concerned that Kyrgyzstan’s Supreme Court failed to rectify the blatant due process violations and release Mr. Askarov. Compounding the injustice, he is not being given adequate treatment for the injuries that are the result of his torture and imprisonment, and his health continues to deteriorate.

Dr. Crosby concluded that Mr. Askarov appears to have suffered severe and lasting physical injuries as a result of his arrest and incarceration. He needs immediate medical help for persistent visual loss, traumatic brain injury, and spinal injury. He also requires immediate evaluation for his chest pain and shortness of breath, symptoms which are strongly suggestive of coronary artery disease and could be life threatening without immediate treatment.

Dr. Vincent Iacopino, Senior Medical Advisor to Physicians for Human Rights, said: “Dr. Crosby’s medical evaluation has revealed compelling physical and psychological evidence of torture. Failure to release Mr. Askarov for treatment of potentially life-threatening torture-related injuries would be medically unethical."