The “Ivanovo Uzbeks” are to be released
On 2 March 2007 a court ruling was issued in Ivanovo ordering that twelve of the thirteen “Ivanovo Uzbeks” be released since the maximum period of this preventive measure allowed for by the Russian Federation Criminal Procedure Code has expired.
The hearing over the detention of the last person, Kyrgyz national Mamirzhon Tashtemirov, is scheduled for today, 5 March. The court rulings have not yet been carried out, with the SIZO [remand centre] administration saying that they have not yet received official notification.
The Human Rights Centre “Memorial” and the Civic Assistance Committee [and KHPG!] warmly welcome the decision to release people who have been held for over 18 months in custody under threat of being extradited to Uzbekistan on trumped up charges of being involved in the uprising in Andijon.
We are, at the same time, concerned about the fate of these men since the decision of the Russian Federation Prosecutor General to extradite them has not been revoked. The extradition has been halted for now by the European Court of Human Rights.
Background, but please see the links below for more information
14 ethnic Uzbeks (12 of whom are citizens of Uzbekistan, one a citizen of the Kyrgyz Republic, and one has Russian citizenship) were remanded in custody a year ago after the events in Andijon in May 2005 when hundreds of people were killed. An investigation was launched into the extradition request by the Uzbek authorities who accuse the men of involvement in organizing the disturbances which ended in bloodshed. Before being taken into custody, the Uzbeks were involved in business.
Human rights groups came to the defence of the “Ivanovo Uzbeks”, pointing to procedural and other violations of the rights of aliens. Their lawyer, Irina Sokolova effectively only discovered that the Uzbeks were to be extradited when she lodged an appeal on their behalf against their being remanded in custody for a year without any formal extension to the original court ruling (in contravention of Russian legislation).
The lawyers attempted to avoid extradition by asking for refugee status on the grounds that some of the charges could carry the death penalty in Uzbekistan. The department of the Federal Migration Service for the Ivanovsk region turned down the application for refugee status, claiming that, according to Russian legislation, since they were not being persecuted when they arrived on Russian territory, they could not be victims of persecution on the grounds of race, nationality or religion following their deportation either. Two appeals against this decision were unsuccessful.
Yet the arrested men were granted mandate refugee status when four lawyers from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees came to Ivanovo to interview the men. As a result the UNHCR recognized all of them as mandate refugees given that they were foreign nationals, were being unwarrantedly persecuted by the authorities in Uzbekistan, with this being on religious or clan grounds.
One of the detained Uzbeks – Khatam Khadzhimatov escaped extradition thanks to his Russian citizenship. Khatam was released and managed to flee to Ukraine from where he was granted asylum in Norway.