Kyrgyz human rights defenders need Sweden’s support

On Sunday (10/10) millions of people in Kyrgyzstan went to the polls to elect a new parliament. At the same time, the country is seeing a continuation of the dreadful persecution of the human rights defenders who have worked to document and report on the ethnically motivated hostilities, which erupted in Kyrgyzstan earlier in the year.

We urge the Swedish government to take action to protect these people – both directly and through the agency of international bodies such as the EU and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Hundreds of people died and thousands were injured as ethnic conflict swept southern Kyrgyzstan in April this year and continued in June. About 50 people are missing and almost 60 women, many of them still children, were subjected to sexual violence. These figures are official – the hidden statistics are very high.

During the hostilities, hundreds of people were arrested on suspicion of having organised and participated in the clashes. The finger of guilt was pointed mainly at ethnic Uzbeks. In many cases, there was no arrest warrant and no warning, while various reports indicate that those held under arbitrary detention were mistreated and tortured. There were also a number of deaths.

Kyrgyz human rights activists and lawyers involved in the process of investigating human rights violations during and after the violence have been subjected to various forms of harassment and intimidation. This is particularly true of human rights defenders belonging to the Uzbek minority. One example is the Uzbek human rights defender Azimdjan Askarov, Director of the human rights organisation Vozdukh, who was sentenced to life in prison for his alleged involvement in an incident in which a policeman was killed.

There is strong reason to suspect that the verdict was politically motivated and that Mr. Askarov has been punished for his human rights work. Before his arrest, he was in the process of documenting the plundering, arson and violent attacks that took place in his residential area. Askarov also filmed the events and some of his footage showed the passive behaviour of the police. Sharp criticism has been levelled against the way in which the case against Mr. Askarov and his seven co-defendants was conducted.

The government of Sweden has expressed strong commitment to the cause of vulnerable human rights defenders across the globe. We now call for the government to
•    take concrete and powerful action to protect the Kyrgyz activists who risk their lives in the fight for justice;
•    insist that the Kyrgyz regime complies with international laws and guidelines on human rights and human rights defenders; and
•    work at EU and OSCE level to ensure these organisations have the capacity to act quickly when human rights defenders are in dire and urgent need of help.

Robert Hårdh
Executive Director, Civil Rights Defenders (formerly Swedish Helsinki Committee)

Tolekan Ismailova
Director, Citizens against Corruption

Tolekan Ismailova and her family spent a few months in Sweden earlier in the year. They had been invited by Civil Rights Defenders to allow them to take a break from the brave human rights work to which Tolekan has devoted her life. A week after the family’s return to Kyrgyzstan, violent clashes erupted. They were forced to leave the country again in July after Tolekan received an assassination warning associated with her documentation and reporting of human rights violations committed against ethnic Uzbeks during the hostilities. A few days before she left, she narrowly avoided an accident – it is believed the car in which she was travelling had been tampered with. (Photo: Civil Rights Defenders)

Categories: Opinion.
Tags: Citizens Against Corruption and Tolekan Ismailova.
Regions: Kyrgyzstan.