On 25 July, ethnic Uzbek human rights advocate Azimjan Askarov died in prison in Kyrgyzstan. Later the same day, Fergana’s general director Daniil Kislov, who has on many occasions spoken out in Askarov’s defence and demanded his release, made a video statement on our Russian website. According to Kislov, the wrongly-imprisoned rights advocate’s death was “in the interests of numerous criminals” who are keen for the interethnic clashes in the south of Kyrgyzstan in 2010 to be forgotten, along with a whole series of crimes committed by law enforcement agencies at the end of the 1990s and start of the 2000s.
Askarov collaborated with Fergana at the start of the 2000s and he and Kislov knew one another well. In a video appeal to the Kyrgyz government several days before Askarov’s death demanding the poorly activist’s release, Fergana’s general director stated that he had spoken to Askarov the night before his arrest in 2010 and that, far from hiding from the authorities as might be expected of someone who had allegedly participated in a murder the day before, Askarov remained in his home terrified that he too would fall victim to the ongoing pogroms.
Here we translate in full Kislov’s 25 July statement on Askarov’s death:
– At 10 am today, 25 July 2020, my friend, the 69-year-old human rights defender and journalist Azimjan Askarov, died in prison in Kyrgyzstan. I offer my deepest condolences to Azimjan aka’s wife and children, who have fought for his freedom for the past ten years. Azimjan Askarov had been seriously ill for the last two weeks, yet the authorities did nothing to provide him with any kind of medical assistance, until his relatives started making noise and pounding on every door. It was only yesterday evening that they transferred him to the hospital at Prison No.47 and put him on an oxygen machine. He was given the diagnosis “community-acquired pneumonia”. The Kyrgyz penal services have accused Askarov of refusing treatment and tearing the oxygen mask off of his face. They say that this was the reason for his death. It is obvious that a person who is running a high temperature can become delirious and not fully understand the consequences of their actions. Medical staff had a duty to do everything in their power to save his life. But they failed to do this.
On social media, Kyrgyz nationalists, Nazis, are exclaiming: “Now you’ll finally shut up about your damn Askarov – you’ll stop writing about him.” Yes, indeed, Askarov’s death was in the interests of numerous criminals, who would like very much for the events of ten years ago to be forgotten as quickly as possible. But I want to say that we, Azimjan’s friends and colleagues, will always remember him and will continue to proclaim his innocence. And the Kyrgyz government will always bear legal and moral responsibility for the victims of the pogroms of June 2010.
The Kyrgyz authorities designated Azimjan Askarov as their enemy long before June 2010. Because, already at the end of the 1990s and the start of the 2000s, Azimjan Askarov was one of the few activists who publicly, openly called attention to instances of reprisals and extra-judicial killings committed by the Kyrgyz law enforcement agencies. Hatred for Azimjan Askarov on the part of the police and the prosecution services was exacerbated by a host of factors normally grouped together under the label of interethnic strife. The ethnic Uzbek Azimjan Askarov always defended the rights of Uzbeks who had been the victims of torture and arbitrary treatment at the hands of the authorities. And Uzbeks, an ethnic minority in Kyrgyzstan, have always been an oppressed minority, an oppressed group in society.
In one of the articles he wrote for our site, Azimjan Askarov wrote that, in the years between 1997 and 2004 alone, at least five people had died at the police station in Bazar-Korgon. In each case, investigations into their deaths came to identical conclusions: the detainees allegedly hung themselves using their T-shirts. The systematic and generalised violence wielded by the Kyrgyz police against the Uzbek community has always existed and continues to exist today. If you are an Uzbek in Kyrgyzstan then you have to keep a low profile, not stick out, not get involved in politics, not draw attention to yourself in any way. Not complain, not go out and protest. And even then there is no guarantee of either freedom or protection of life.
Askarov was the kind of Uzbek who always said and wrote the truth. There is not a single piece of compelling evidence of his participation in the death of police officer Myktybek Sulaymanov. The charges against him are based exclusively on the testimony of police officers who were the murdered policeman’s colleagues – police officers whose illegal deeds Askarov had been exposing for many years. The charges are based on the testimony of people – law enforcement officers – who in fact distributed weapons to those who carried out the pogroms, who in turn plundered and burned down the Uzbek quarters of Bazar-Korgon in 2010.
Askarov’s “guilt” lies in the fact that he went around and methodically documented, photographed and recorded evidence of these pogroms. It is thanks to the professional job done by Azimjan Askarov in this sphere – as a journalist and a human rights defender – that evidence was gathered of heavy crimes committed by the Kyrgyz authorities against universal human rights and, specifically, against the Uzbek minority. Crimes of various different state actors – from local police chiefs who had been harassing Askarov since the Akaev era to the Bakiev mafia who flourished so rampantly in the south of Kyrgyzstan, and to interim president Roza Otunbaeva, embarrassed yet turning a blind eye to the crimes of her subordinates. And to her successor Almazbek Atambaev, now sitting in prison, and current head of state Sooronbay Jeenbekov, who was unable to muster the strength to free an innocent prisoner.
The authorities in Kyrgyzstan are cowardly and mendacious. Today they have killed an old, weak, sick and innocent man. Shame on them! And may Azimjan Askarov remain forever in our memories.