Amnesty International has urged Kyrgyzstani authorities to ensure a fair trial for eight ethnic Uzbeks facing charges over the death of a police officer during mass violence across southern parts of the country in June.
The appeal comes after the accused, their lawyers and families were attacked by relatives and colleagues of the dead policeman at the opening of their trial in the southern town of Massi on 2 September, following repeated requests from the defence to move the trial away from the region.
“The scenes seen inside and outside the court on Friday show that the officials are simply not willing to guarantee the safety of the defendants, which virtually eliminates any hope of the trial being fair," said Maisy Weicherding, Kyrgyzstan expert at Amnesty International.
As the trial continued on Monday, three of the accused appeared in court with black eyes, prompting fears that they may have been beaten while in custody.
Relatives of the dead officer reportedly attacked defence lawyers in court with sticks in full view of the judge and court officials, who made only sporadic attempts to stop the violence and restore order. The judge allegedly threatened to revoke the defence lawyers’ licences after they complained over being denied any opportunity to question witnesses or submit petitions.
Meanwhile, police officers reportedly looked on while family members of the accused were attacked by the dead policeman’s relatives outside the courtroom, telling them to go away when they appealed to the officers to stop the violence. The defendants’ families had been denied access to the courtroom which was filled with relatives and colleagues of the dead police officer.
“The trial must be moved immediately and relatives and independent observers allowed access to ensure it meets international fair trial standards,” said Maisy Weicherding.
Seven men and one woman stand accused of “inciting ethnic hatred” and “organizing mass disorder” in Bazar-Korgan, where the police officer was killed on 13 June by a crowd that had staged a roadblock on a highway leading into the southern city.
Azmizhan Askarov, head of human rights organization Vozdukh, filmed and photographed killings and arson attacks on mostly Uzbek homes, allegedly by groups of armed men claiming to be Kyrgyz, before being detained by police on 15 June.
According to local human rights activists, Azmizhan Askarov was subjected to prolonged beatings at a police station in Bazar-Korgan in an attempt to force him to hand over his footage and confess to murdering the police officer.
“Azmizhan Askarov should not even be on trial, or in detention. He is being targeted for his legitimate human rights work and should be immediately and unconditionally released,” said Maisy Weicherding.
Around 400,000 people reportedly fled their homes after clashes between rival Kyrgyz and Uzbek youth gangs rapidly escalated into mass violence, reportedly leaving hundreds of people dead and thousands injured. About 75,000 remain homeless and in need of shelter.
Amnesty International has called for an independent investigation into the June violence, including the killing of the police officer, to ensure the perpetrators are brought to justice.