BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan, Nov. 15 (UPI) -- Wages will be raised for currently low-paid judges working in Kyrgyzstan's corruption-prone judicial system, the country's deputy prime minister says.
Prime Minister Tayirbek Sarpashev announced Tuesday at a Bishkek conference on human rights and civil society the government would seek to create a cleaner judiciary by raising judicial wages as a disincentive to accept bribes.
"The protection of human rights is an essential task of the authorities," he said in an official release. "In order to ensure the rights of every citizen are protected, we need to carry out reforms in the law enforcement and the judicial system."
Thus, Sarpashev announced, "as part of the reform of the judicial system in the next year we plan to raise the wages of judges. I think that this will be a good incentive to the judiciary for the faithful performance of their work and to render objective judgments."
Kyrgyzstan's justice system has come under criticism from the European Union, the United Nations and others for corruption and lack of independence from government prosecutors, while police have been accused of torturing prisoners.
The highest profile human rights case is that of Azimjon Askarov, an ethnic Uzbek activist and investigative reporter sentenced to life in prison for his alleged role in the slaying of a policeman during ethnic clashes in southern Kyrgyzstan in 2010.
Askarov's lawyer and the Open Society Justice Initiative, a U.S. non-governmental organization, claim he was arbitrarily arrested during the bloodshed, beaten by police and booked on fabricated charges.
Later, they claim, Askarov was subjected to a biased, politically charged trial where defense witnesses were intimidated into not testifying.
Askarov's sentence was upheld by the Kyrgyz Supreme Court late last year, prompting a denunciation from U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, who called on Kyrgyz judges to "ensure that the civil rights of defendants are protected, particularly when there are allegations of torture," Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.
Sarpashev, the deputy prime minister, used the occasion of the civil society forum to assert the government "does all it can" to ensure that state institutions operate transparently and recognizes the need for human rights to respected if Kyrgyzstan wants to take part in the "modern fast-paced world."
The low wages of judges has long been cited by outside experts as a prime cause of corruption in the Central Asian country.
The UNHCR says that while nominally independent, the judicial system suffers from a lack of reform, low salaries and corruption.
"Very low judges' salaries have led to a well-grounded view among lawyers and citizens that all but a very few scrupulously honest judges are open to bribes," the agency said.
The raising of judges' wages is part of a series of reform measures taken over the last 20 years, which also include a proposal to establish an independent judicial budget and that judges be tested on their knowledge of the law and new civil codes.
Members of an EU-Kyrgyz judicial reform working group this year found that Kyrgyz judges "have been appointed and their powers have been extended on ambiguous legal grounds," and that they were not selected "on a competitive basis, according to sound legal acts and procedures."
This, they said, has produced a deadlock situation since the adoption of a new constitution following the ouster of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in the "Second Kyrgyz Revolution" of 2010.