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World Bank should pressure Kyrgyzstan for release of independent journalist

Journalist Azimzjon Askarov looks through metal bars during hearings at the regional court in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, 11 October 2016
Journalist Azimzjon Askarov looks through metal bars during hearings at the regional court in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, 11 October 2016

AP Photo/Vladimir Voronin

This letter to the president of the World Bank was originally published on cpj.org on 5 January 2017.

January 5, 2017

President Jim Yong Kim
World Bank Group
1818 H Street, NW Washington, DC 20433 USA
Via email: [email protected]

Dear Dr. Kim,

The Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent international press freedom organization, is writing to request that you use your authority as president of the World Bank to engage with Kyrgyz authorities and call for the release of Azimjon Askarov, an independent journalist jailed for life on retaliatory charges in 2010.

Askarov, a 2012 recipient of CPJ's International Press Freedom Award, was convicted of complicity in the killing of a police officer. After speaking with the journalist's lawyers and defense witnesses, and reviewing court documents, CPJ found that Kyrgyz authorities had retaliated against Askarov over his reporting on corruption and abusive practices in this Central Asian state.

As part of an independent investigation into Askarov's case, CPJ documented numerous procedural violations, including a judicial process marred by torture and lack of evidence, an unfair trial, and multiple instances where Kyrgyz authorities ignored calls by the international community to release the journalist. During the trial, Askarov and his lawyer were assaulted and potential defense witnesses, who could testify that the journalist was not at the crime scene, were ignored by authorities or too frightened to testify, according to news reports.

After exhausting all avenues to appeal the conviction at home, Askarov and his defense team sought redress before the United Nations' Human Rights Committee. In April 2016, following a three-and-a-half year review of the case, the U.N. committee concurred with CPJ's findings and ruled that Kyrgyzstan should immediately release Askarov, quash his conviction, and compensate him.

According to article 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which obligates Kyrgyzstan to ensure effective remedy to citizens whose rights have been violated, and Article 41.2 of the country's constitution, which guarantees every citizen the right to seek redress before international human rights agencies, and which binds Kyrgyzstan to comply with these agencies' rulings, Kyrgyz authorities must abide by the U.N. committee's ruling and release Askarov.

Instead of ordering his release, authorities in July 2016 ordered a retrial.

The Chui regional court near the capital, Bishkek, is expected to rule in the case on January 10. CPJ has closely monitored the hearings, which started in October last year, and found that the court has dismissed several requests from his defense team, including that the journalist be freed during the retrial to enable him to seek medical attention. Several defense witnesses gave accounts in court of being threatened during the first trial, and voiced concern for their safety if they defended Askarov again.

The World Bank, which supports democracy as a prerequisite for successful market reforms in a country, has a strong relationship with Kyrgyzstan and is a vital source of financial and technical assistance for the country. It works with the Kyrgyz government to ensure sustainable economic development, which is not possible without ensuring that the rule of law and respect for human rights, including freedom of speech and the media, are respected.

Dr. Kim, the continued imprisonment of Askarov is not only a violation of Kyrgyzstan's international commitments, but a stark example of the absence of rule of law and respect for fundamental rights by Kyrgyzstan. We ask that you engage with the Kyrgyz government and make Askarov's release a condition for continued economic cooperation with the Central Asian state.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We await your response.

Sincerely,

Courtney C. Radsch
Advocacy Director
Committee to Protect Journalists

CC:

Jean-Michel Happi, Country Manager in the Kyrgyz Republic, World Bank
Cyril Muller, Vice President, Europe and Central Asia, World Bank
Laura Tuck, Vice President, Sustainable Development, World Bank
Christina Biebesheimer, Chief Counsel, Justice Reform Practice Group, World Bank

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