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Rights defender and family beaten in Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyz authorities should ensure a thorough and effective investigation into the vicious physical assault on Ulugbek Azimov, a prominent Bishkek human rights lawyer, and members of his family, says Human Rights Watch.

A number of unidentified assailants viciously beat Azimov, his 17-year-old son, and his brother-in-law on the evening of May 9, 2013, after an alleged traffic incident in central Bishkek. The investigation should lead to identification and prosecution of the assailants and should examine thoroughly all possible motives for the assault, including Azimov's human rights work, Human Rights Watch said.

“The people who attacked the Azimov family did so in full view of dozens of onlookers,” said Mihra Rittmann, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should spare no effort to find the attackers and to hold them accountable for this brazen and unprovoked violence.”

Azimov is a human rights lawyer and legal expert with the Independent Human Rights Group, focusing on torture and due process issues. He was recently elected to the Coordinating Council of Kyrgyzstan's National Center for the Prevention of Torture and serves on the Public Supervisory Council under Kyrgyzstan's Internal Affairs Ministry. The council is a consultative body established to ensure greater citizen participation in overseeing the work of the ministry.

Aziza Abdurasulova, Azimov's colleague and fellow Bishkek-based human rights defender, told Human Rights Watch that a police investigation is under way. On May 13 police had identified the driver of the other car and were questioning him along with members of Azimov's family, she said.

Azimov told Human Rights Watch that he and members of his extended family were returning home around 8 p.m. on May 9 in two vehicles. As they approached one of Bishkek's main intersections, the driver of another car pulled out in front of them, blocked the car in which Azimov's brother-in-law was driving, and accused the brother-in-law of interfering with his right of way. He was shouting and very aggressive, even though there had been no contact between the two cars and the driver's car was not damaged, Azimov said.

Azimov told Human Rights Watch that he and his brother-in-law attempted to calm the driver down, without success. Given the crowd of people and cars that had stopped and gathered around the busy intersection, Azimov and his brother-in-law returned to one of the two vehicles and turned off the main road. The driver sped after them, again blocking their way. Without warning, he got out of his car and physically attacked Azimov's brother-in-law, forcing him out of the car.

A crowd began to gather at this point, and soon after, several other unknown men attacked Azimov, who also had emerged from the vehicle, along with his teenage son. Azimov told Human Rights Watch that he saw the men beat his son on the head. He said he too was hit in the head several times and was kicked repeatedly before he fell to the ground.

It was only after two female relatives rushed out of the cars to protect the men from being beaten further that the assailants stopped and fled the scene. Both women were bruised while attempting to protect their relatives from the attackers.

Azimov told Human Rights Watch that he did not recognize any of the men and could not understand what motivated the violence.

Immediately following the attack, Azimov and his family went to the Sverdlovskii police station in Bishkek to file a police report. Then they went to a hospital, where the three were diagnosed with concussions and bruising to their heads and faces. Azimov also had a broken leg.

“The authorities have a duty to bring the attackers to justice, whatever the motivation for this brutal attack,” Rittmann said. “The men responsible for this violence should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

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