The wife of a human rights activist serving a life sentence in Kyrgyzstan on politicized charges says the state is trying to take her home away.
Her husband, Azimjan Askarov, was caught up in the communal violence that rocked southern Kyrgyzstan in 2010, shortly after a bloody change of power in Bishkek. An ethnic Uzbek, Askarov was reviled by predominantly ethnic Kyrgyz security forces who long bristled at his human rights activism and reporting. That September he was sentenced to life in prison on charges of inciting a crowd to murder a police officer during the ethnic riots. Many saw the charges as retribution.
Askarov’s supporters, including several Western governments and rights groups, have long argued the case against him was flimsy, and his original trial was marred by procedural violations. Washington has called him a political prisoner.
Now Askarov’s wife, Khadicha Askarova, said she received a note this week from a Bishkek court saying the state will take her home away because she has not paid her husband’s accusers 175,000 som [$2,550] in moral damages, RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service, Azattyk, reported May 8. As a pensioner she receives 4,000 som [$58] per month.
“I have nothing but my home. At one point, police officers took everything from me – rice, oil, jam, everything including my bird food. And if they now take away my only housing, I will have to live on the street,” Askarova told Azattyk.
This is not the first time the courts have tried to seize the house she shared with her husband before his arrest. Back in 2012, though, she successfully fought off the attempt.
The wife of the late police officer says she has no choice but to seek the damages the court awarded her. “For nine years now I have been raising [our] children alone, without a husband,” Chinara Bechelova told Azattyk. “If they could bring my husband back to life, I wouldn’t take a penny from them; on the contrary, I would give them money. It’s not easy when someone dies.”
Askarov, now 68, has defiantly maintained his innocence over the years. Numerous human rights organizations have cited procedural violations in his trial and appeals, including the absence of any witnesses called for the defense, as well as physical attacks on Askarov, his co-defendants, and his lawyer during the trial itself.
The case has grown increasingly toxic over the years and has placed authorities in the impossible position of having to either placate the international community – much of which has argued Askarov was unjustly jailed in a marred trail – or risk stirring the ire of ferociously nationalistic sections of the population.
In 2016, a judicial review was instigated at the behest of the UN Human Rights Committee, which issued a complaint on the basis of allegations that Askarov had been subject to mistreatment and torture in prison. Kyrgyzstan’s Supreme Court in July voided the original conviction and ordered a legal review, but declined to release the ailing Askarov from custody as explicitly requested by the UN committee.
In early 2017, a court reinstated his life sentence. Rights advocates expressed dismay at the verdict, calling it a violation of Kyrgyzstan’s international commitments.
Under the Obama administration, Askarov’s case soured relations with Washington, especially after the State Department named him a Human Rights Defender of the year in 2014. That enraged Kyrgyzstan, which responded by tearing up a 1993 treaty between the two countries.
In an 2012 interview inside his prison, Askarov told Eurasianet that he had been brutally beaten after his initial detention.
“They nearly killed me,” he said, referring to local police. “They held my arms behind my back, and took a weight filled with water, and hit me with it [in the stomach]. They hit me over the head with it so that huge lumps rose up.” He also said he saw witnesses beaten bloody to force them to testify against him.