Verdict in Kyrgyzstan: Highest level of hypocrisy
Such scribbles could be seen almost all over Southern Kyrgyzstan in the summer of 2010—residents called for help and protection from pogroms
Today’s editorial covers the event of the day in Kyrgyzstan—a Bishkek court ruled to leave Azimjan Askarov’s life-long imprisonment verdict in force. Why was the journalist and human rights activist was tried in the first place? Chief Editor Daniil Kislov is certain that his colleague and friend was imprisoned for his courageous work, for criticism and the truth the court refused to acknowledge. It is such truth that the Kyrgyz government and society are still unprepared to face.
Long before being convicted, Azimjan Askarov—an ethnic Uzbek who then lived in Southern Kyrgyzstan—has always been the least convenient person to deal with for police and prosecutors in his native Bazar-Kurgan and Jalalabad. He was known for defending the rights of those beaten in police stations, a girl cops raped, and Hizb-ut-Tahrir members who were peaceful but so “annoying” and “detrimental” in the government’s eyes.
He got engaged in this field since early 2000s, when he started helping to collect documents and was public defender in courts, testified about tortures and fraud; he also wrote article about the truth in mass media outlets. Some of them, including us, published his materials. Azimjan-aka defended human rights both in Askar Akayev’s and Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s terms in office. He tried to continue such activities during Otunbayeva’s time.
Askarov studied arts in university; however, he became a journalist and human rights advocated well into his adult life. Only those who believe this is their calling and duty would make such a change in their careers, because they can no longer remain silent and tolerate evil. And such people—sincere and convincingly standing up to injustice—is the worst irritant for evil powers holding office.
Azimjan Askarov’s wife pictured in Bishkek on May 17, 2011. Photo by Grigoriy Mikhaylov
The truth is an enemy for everyone. Askarov was an inconvenient person not only for official figures but also for latent and hidden “national-patriots” with eyes filled with blood. Such groups were de-jure illegal in Kyrgyzstan until June 2010, but have become de-facto legal. That is the reason why Azimjan, who happens to be a “minority” representative, now draws his pictures in a solitary confinement cell.
It was these very nationalists, not some “third parties” or “external forces,” turned thousands of houses in Osh, Jalalabad and elsewhere into ruins thanks to help from officials, police, bandits and lumpens. And that is exactly the party from whom Azimjan attempted to protect his native Bazar-Kurgan with… a video camera.
Starting on May 20, 2010, Azimjan recorded the unfolding events, monitored what was happening around in his life—something he believed was his duty as a human rights advocate and journalist. When all mass media directed their cameras and microphones toward Osh, tensions were rising in Bazar-Kurgan where Uzbeks are 80% of the population. Suspicious vehicles without license plates started rolling into the village, scouting and looking around. Internal refugees started pouring into the village from other districts that were in fire after June 10-11; barricades appeared everywhere in the village on June 12…
When a police captain was killed in Bazar-Kurgan on June 13, all of his colleagues have subsequently jointly decided that Askarov, 60-years-old at the time, was at the helm. Why did they make such a decision? Because they thought about the situation, could not find anyone to pin the killing on. They had only those who were near the crime scene and those whom they tortured into confessing. Askarov was apprehended just for the sake of apprehension; and especially because he refused to provide false testimonies against others. And because they wanted to exact revenge on him for all that he wrote and did over many years prior to mid-2010. For all the rights and legal violations he recorded and reported on; because he recorded all preparations ahead of the pogroms that summer. That is completely obvious to me because I was in constant contact with Askarov before the events, I was present at hearings and heard all testimonies the prosecutors provided.
Askarov was only detained two days after Captain Sulaymanov was killed, while pogroms were happening all around and thousands of refugees flocked toward the border with Uzbekistan. To be sure, Askarov did not flee—what an unprofessional killer! He remained in contact with local authorities, continuously recorded facts, and identified a dozen of the deceased.
In 2011, I have spoken with the widow of the killed police captain. Her eyes were sorrow and suffering; she said with anger in her voice, “Askarov killed my husband, that’s what his friends policemen said.” Those policemen would later testify, “someone has said Askarov was present near the bridge” [where the alleged killing took place]. A very basic investigation coupled with comparison of their testimonies would easily crush this completely unbelievable and unconvincing story of Askarov’s “crime.” That is the kind of “evidences” the case against Askarov rests on.
The evidences of the defence team were partially heard—but not listened to—only during the last hearing, which completed today. Testimonies about Askarov’s alibi that he was in his house when the killing took place could be provided by dozens of people. They all were afraid before and they were afraid to come to court this time as well. Those who are already convicted in the Bazar-Kurgan case were forcibly brought here from prison. And they stated they were tortured into testifying against Askarov. The esteemed judges paid no attention whatsoever.
My personal opinion regarding the “guilty or innocent” status of my friend Azimjan Askarov is this: I would very much like to be present during a genuine hearing, where facts are put forth, not ideologemes; convincing testimonies are taken into consideration, not emotional outbursts; wherein legality and laws reign, not street-level threats. If there is no such court that can irrefutably and objectively can prove Askarov’s guilt, he is unequivocally innocent! And he is not obligated to prove his innocence. Yes, do read Article 26 of the Constitution of Kyrgyzstan!
The masquerade the Kyrgyz authorities put together in Bishkek today was so low quality with such an unconvincing ending that no one would ever believe its are authentic. Nor will anyone ever believe any other verdict Kyrgyz courts will adopt from now on.
There is no more necessity to prove courts in Kyrgyzstan are not independent. This is hypocrisy elevated to the rank of law wherein representatives of power violate laws to arbitrarily punish someone who was actually defending those very laws.
The life-long imprisonment handed down to Azimjan Askarov could turn into a capital punishment verdict. At that, that death may come to him very soon. He is and ill man, who declared an indefinite hunger strike today. He will either kill himself like this or will die of despair. You would say, “It would be good if Askarov survives until his appellation hearing at the Supreme Court.” But what would that change?! After all, that very same Supreme Court has heard his case twice—and issued the same verdict both times, sending him to prison as long as he is alive!
A group of marauders in Osh, June 2010. Photo by Inga Sikorskaya
The “island of democracy” in Kyrgyzstan has been wiped out by typhoons of lawlessness. I know, not everyone is happy with the verdict Askarov was handed today. However, influential figures in Kyrgyzstan—officials, politicians, cops, prosecutors and judges—may not completely supportive of fascistic ideas in their absolute majority, but they are certainly turning the blind eye toward nationalists and their arbitrariness.
How it came down to this is a different topic for a difference conversation. Independence has turned into a significant challenge for a small nation, which failed to pass it. Patriotism alone does not take far.
But then even that patriotism is nowhere to be found in Kyrgyzstan. Because a patriot is not someone who harasses ethnic minorities and calls them “tenants” or “freeloaders.” Patriotism is serious and delicate sentiment of responsibility for the past, present and future of one’s country, which has to do first and foremost with the wellbeing of society and each and every single one of its members, not the wellbeing of the state.
There can be no authentic and real authority in the country that unjustly and illegally imprisoned an irrefutably innocent man. The power in Kyrgyzstan is in the hands of a crowd with animalistic instincts. That was the mad crowd Uzbeks in Osh and Jalalabad were afraid of. Those were the “nationalist-patriots” Interim President Roza Otunbayeva was afraid of. President Atambayev is scared of the horrifying face of his own voters. All the subsequent office holders will continue to be afraid of this crowd. That said, the power-that-be are concerned with their own and entourages’ survival, not with those abstract “values of society” anyway.
No matter how banal it may sound, I will still say, “The verdict issued against Askarov today is in fact a verdict issued against the country.” It would be good if the verdict were not “for life.” Because if so, complete despair, lawlessness, moral decay and death will reign.
Daniil Kislov, January 24, 2017