UN says Kyrgyz court failed to probe torture claims

22nd December 2011, Comments 0 comments

UN rights chief Navi Pillay condemned on Thursday a Kyrgyzstan court's decision to uphold a life sentence against a noted human rights campaigner who says he was tortured in custody.

Azimjan Askarov, director of the rights group Vozdukh, was convicted late last year over the murder of a policeman and deadly inter-ethnic riots in the volatile Central Asian State in June 2010.

The Kyrgyz Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld his conviction and sentence.

However his supporters and defence have said that Askarov, a member of the Uzbek community which bore the brunt of the violence, had only been documenting the bloodshed.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights said the authorities had failed to investigate allegations made by Askarov and some of his seven co-defendants that they were the victims of torture during their pre-trial detention.

"It is particularly alarming that the judges failed to consider the defendants' claims that confessions had been extracted under duress," Pillay said.

"Judges in Kyrgyzstan must ensure that the civil rights of defendants are protected, particularly when there are allegations of torture."

The rights body said there were indications that a "significant number" of people prosecuted over the riots were forced to make confessions later admitted as evidence in court.

"The Supreme Court of Kyrgyzstan must ensure that in those cases where inadmissible evidence might have been used, verdicts rendered by lower courts are reversed and criminal cases are dismissed or sent for retrial," Pillay said.

Hundreds of people were killed during several days of fighting between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities in the south of the country in June last year.

The riots triggered more than 5,000 related criminal cases, with most trials monitored by the rights body failing to meet its standards, the UNHCRC said.

The United States embassy also said it was "deeply disappointed" by the supreme court's decision.

"This verdict represents a setback for the rule of law and protection of citizens' rights that are the cornerstone of any free and democratic society," it said.

"It also sets a disturbing precedent for the hundreds of others awaiting trials or appeals whose circumstances are similar to these defendants," it said in a statement.

© 2011 AFP

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