2014 Kirgisistan: Azimjon Askarov

Oslo, 12. November 2014


His Excellency Almazbek Atambayev
Office of the President
Chuy Avenue 205
72003 Bishkek
Republic of Kyrgyzstan

Your Excellency

Azimjon Askarov is a journalist and member of Kyrgyzstan’s Uzbek minority who has spent his career exposing corruption. He was arrested during the inter-ethnic conflict that swept Osh and Jalal-Abad in June 2010 and convicted, on 15 September 2010, of organising mass disorder and complicity in the murder of a police officer; he was sentenced to life imprisonment. The UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and other independent observers have declared that Askarov did not receive a fair trial. An official investigation commissioned by the government’s own human rights ombudsman concluded that Askarov was not even at the scene prior to the police officer’s murder and, therefore, that he had played no role in the killing. PEN believes that Askarov was targeted solely for his critical reporting of police corruption and that he should be released immediately and unconditionally.

Askarov, 61, has not always been a journalist. A practical, creative man, he studied art at university and, for the first 15 years of his adult life, worked as a house painter and decorator. He only turned to journalism in the mid-90s, contributing to the regional news websites Golos Svobody (Voice of Freedom) and the Ferghana News Agency. He quickly made himself unpopular with the authorities by exposing local corruption; his investigations into police involvement in criminal activity reportedly led to ten police officers losing their jobs.

Askarov maintains that he took no part in the clashes of 2010, and that he spent most of his time documenting it; he took photographs of victims (both Kyrgyz and Uzbek), made extensive notes and went to the local morgue to identify bodies. He also wrote that he witnessed Kyrgyz police officers shooting ethnic Uzbeks.

The evidence against Askarov is widely considered by human rights NGOs to be fabricated.  Since his arrest, Askarov has repeatedly complained of being beaten and threatened, including during his trial; these claims are supported by independent witnesses.  An examination carried out in January 2012 by the international NGO Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) concluded not only that Askarov’s health had deteriorated, but that he showed clinical evidence of traumatic brain injury consistent with his claims of being tortured. In November 2012, the journalist’s lawyer submitted a complaint to the UN Human Rights Committee.

Norwegian PEN

·         Call for the immediate release of journalist and human rights defender Azimjon Askarov, for his conviction to be overturned, and for his allegations of torture to be thoroughly and impartially investigated;

·         Call for anyone found responsible for violating Askarov’s rights to be brought to justice and for Askarov to be provided with adequate redress for any such violations, including an enforceable right to compensation for any torture he is found to have been subjected to.



Ms Brit Bildøen

Chair of Writers in Prison Committee
Norwegian PEN

COPY: The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Rapport fra PEN Internationals kongress i Bishkek, Kirgisistan

For første gang i historien vedtar PEN International en resolusjon der det fokuseres på de dramatiske endringene i verdens klima.  Initiativet kom fra Norsk PEN.

På PEN Internationals 80. verdenskongress i Bishkek, Kirgisistan, ble Norsk PENs forslag til en klimaresolusjon enstemmig vedtatt i slutten av forrige uke.  Med henvisning til PENs Charter peker teksten blant annet på det ansvaret verdens skribenter har for å advare mot alle slags farer og risikoer og retter en henstilling til alle verdens ledere om å arbeide for en bindende, global avtale for å stanse CO2-utslipp slik at den globale oppvarmingen begrenses til et nivå under det FNs klimapanel vurderer som truende.

Norsk PEN bidro også til etablering av en eritreisk ytringsfrihetssenter i eksil.  Fribyforfatteren i Bø i Telemark, Dessale B. Abraham, har arbeidet lenge for å etablere et eritreisk PEN-senter.  På kongressen presenterte PEN-leder William Nygaard det nye senteret og understreket at «Eritrea er et av de verste landene i verden når det gjelder ytringsfrihet og trenger umiddelbar hjelp fra det internasjonale samfunnet.»   Etter et personlig og gripende innlegg fra Dessale selv, der han fortalte om og viste bilder av de mange kollegene som var fengslet uten lov og dom eller «forsvunnet», ble Eritreisk PEN enstemmig innvotert som nytt senter i PEN International.

Norsk PEN leverte også forslag til en resolusjon om utviklingen i Aserbajdsjan, der myndighetene de siste månedene har fengslet en rekke skribenter og menneskerettighetsforkjempere, samtidig som landet har formannskapet i Europarådet.  Resolusjonen, som også ble enstemmig vedtatt, oppfordrer Europarådet til å «reagere formelt mot medlemsland der  myndighetene forfølger, trakasserer og fengsler representanter for det sivile samfunn, inklusive journalister og andre skribenter som samarbeider med rådet.»

Ellers er det verdt å merke seg at de russiske og ukrainske delegatene forente seg om resolusjoner i de respektive landene, og at det ble vedtatt en krass resolusjon mot overvåkning, på initiativ fra PEN/USA, og at det for første gang ble vedtatt en resolusjon som fordømte forfølgelse av seksuelle minoriteter.

Oslo, 7. oktober 2014

Nærmere informasjon:
Klimaresolusjonen m.v.: Nestleder Elisabeth Eide – 9953 8384.  Eide er tilgjengelig for intervjuer.
Aserbajdsjan: Generalsekretær Carl Morten Iversen – 926 88 023
Om PEN Eritrea: Dessale B.  Abraham 9695 8013

Les også Elisabeth Eide og William Nygaards kronikk.

De to resolusjonstekstene følger denne pressemeldingen:


The Assembly of Delegates of PEN International, meeting at its 80th World Congress in
Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan 29 September- 2 October 2014

Recognizing the PEN charter, which states that that literature knows no frontiers and must remain common currency among people in spite of political or international upheavals, and recognizing that society has traditionally regarded its writers as beacons warning against all sorts of dangers and risks;

Reiterating also Article 7 of the PEN International Bled Manifesto which calls for the respect of the environment in order to create sustainable conditions for peace;

PEN International urges the global leaders to pay special attention to the risks posed by climate change. PEN also urges global leaders to pay special attention to risks posed by climate change, and also to writers and others advocating against activities harmful to the climate, who risk being oppressed by governments or corporates with vested interests.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has in 2013 and 2014 submitted  its assessment report no 5 (AR5) informing the world with increased scientific certainty that anthropogenic climate change is a major threat. Increased global warming is expected, with subsequent melting of polar ice, increased floods and other extreme weather occurrences. The AR5 Working Group II indicates that climate change will affect the livelihood of people, through decreased agricultural production, decreased freshwater resources, increased poverty levels and a variety of other consequences. Furthermore the AR5 Working Group III predicts that climate changes will lead to more inhabitable areas and increased migration.
Whereas all science is linked to a degree of uncertainty, the IPCC consensus is now based on a higher level of certainty than previously. In addition, the precautionary principle has been unanimously adapted by most climate scientists and many politicians. Lack of serious and effective action implies that this principle is not being seriously considered.
For the first time, the IPCC reports also discuss ethical questions connected to anthropogenic climate changes. Working Group III underlines the moral responsibility shouldered by this earth’s population to take care of the resources needed by future generations, whose interests have to be expressed and taken care of by those who live now.
Climate change is a slow process, but people in poorer regions of the world are already affected, and future generations will be more severely affected than those of their parents and grandparents. This poses special challenges to global leaders, as these generations do not yet have a chance to voice their interests.

PEN international:
• Regards climate change as a major threat to future generations and urges communities all over the world to be concerned with these voices, yet unheard,
– Calls for an increasingly open debate on these issues, and for protection of those who write or speak out against harmful climate change
– Urges global leaders to work for a binding global agreement to curb CO2 emissions to limit future global warming to a level below what is considered threatening by IPCC scientists.
– Expresses its wishes for the Paris Summit in 2015 to adopt such an agreement in accordance with the precautionary principle to secure livelihoods for present and future generations.

Norwegian PEN, seconded by Ethiopia PEN and Turkey PEN
(Accepted, four abstentions)


In-session resolution on the Republic of Azerbaijan
Proposed by  Norwegian PEN

The Assembly of Delegates of PEN International, meeting at its 80th World Congress in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, 29th September to 2nd October 2014

The authorities of Azerbaijan have  accelerated their  crackdown on independent journalism and civil independent society by arresting – one after the other – key critics of the country’s leadership.  Journalists continue to suffer judicial harassment, threats and violence: PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee’s Case List for 2013 lists 26 cases of Azeri print journalists and writers imprisoned or otherwise harassed, many on trumped up and politically motivated criminal charges. The situation with regard to civil society is equally worrying: the bank accounts of more than a dozen NGOs are now blocked and their offices are being searched and equipment and files confiscated; several NGO-employees have been banned from travelling; some have fled the country and applied for asylum in neighbouring countries; others have stayed in Azerbaijan but live in hiding.

Most recently, in late July and early August 2014, the Azerbaijani government moved to arrest well-known and critical leaders of the civil society in the country: human rights defender Leyla Yunus; her husband – writer and academic Arif Yunus – who is the coordinator of the campaign “Sing for Democracy”; human rights defender Rasul Jafarov; and human rights lawyer Intigam Aliyev.

PEN International is  particular concerned about Leyla Yunus’ health whilst in detention. A diabetes sufferer, reports indicate that she has not been provided with adequate health care and her lawyers have alleged that she was beaten in detention on 23 September 2014.

On 21August 2014, Ilgar Nasibov, a journalist and human rights defender, was beaten unconscious in Nakhchivan, the capital of the autonomous western exclave of Azerbaijan. His wife, fellow journalist Malahat Nasibova, suspects the authorities.  An Azerbaijani exclave bordered by Armenia, Iran and Turkey, the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic is notorious for violence against journalists.

All these arrests were carried out on similar charges of  inter alia tax evasion, illegal entrepreneurship and abuse of authority, in addition to treason charges which have been brought against Leyla Yunus and Aref Yunus.
The Council of Europe, of which Azerbaijan is the current chair, has done little in the face of this crackdown. One of the few free Azerbaijani free expression organisations, the Institute for Reporters Freedom and Safety (IRFS) said in a recent comment: “It is a usual and expected procedure at the Council of Europe that when human rights are attacked to issue a press statement condemning the attack. Unfortunately, we have not seen any strongly-worded statement since the crackdown has started. Independent journalists, rights defenders and activists across the country despair, feeling betrayed by the Council of Europe that chooses to neglect their own values as long as Azerbaijan contributes to its geopolitical agenda.”

The international community must use all measures to protect persecuted and imprisoned journalists and other human rights defenders . As chair of the Council of Europe, Azerbaijan has an even greater obligation to abide by its international obligations, stop  the persecution and repression of critical voices, and release all imprisoned writers and human rights defenders who have been jailed solely for exercising their right to free expression.

The United Nations Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) on 14 September 2014 decided to suspend its visit to Azerbaijan due to obstructions it encountered in carrying out its mandate under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT), to which Azerbaijan is a state party.

The SPT-delegation was prevented from visiting several places where people are detained and was barred from completing its work at other sites, despite repeated attempts to do so and assurances of unrestricted access to all places of deprivation of liberty by Azerbaijani authorities.

As a result of these serious breaches of Azerbaijan’s obligations under the Optional Protocol, the delegation concluded that the integrity of its visit, scheduled to run from 8 to 17 September, had been compromised to such an extent that it had to be suspended.

PEN International calls upon the Government of Azerbaijan to:

•    Immediately and unconditionally release all journalists, other writers andhuman rights defenders imprisoned or detained solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression, including those held on politically motivated criminal charges;

•    End all persecution of journalists and writers and investigate attacks against them, bringing anyone found responsible to justice;

•    Invite the SPT-delegation back in order to complete its work without obstructions of any kind, in accordance with the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT), to which Azerbaijan is a party

PEN International furthermore calls upon the international community to:

•    urgently react to the rapidly deteriorating situation in Azerbaijan, especially in relation to the crackdown on independent journalism and civil society; by requesting the immediate release and rehabilitation of all writers, human rights defenders and NGO-workers who are arbitrarily held.

The organization also calls upon the Council of Europe to:

•    take vigorous steps to react formally against member-countries  whose authorities persecute, harass and imprison civil society representatives including journalists and other writers who work in cooperation with the council.