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18.02.2013 | Halya Coynash

Danger of Uzbek refugee being extradited to Uzbekistan

   

It is a bitter irony that Khurmatillo Zokirov should have fled to Ukraine from Russia where attempts to extradite him to face obviously trumped up charges had failed.  He has now been in custody for eight months and could well face extradition if action is not taken now 

Yelena Ryabinina from Russia’s Human Rights Institute Right to Refuge Programme has been informed  by a reliable source that Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office is planning to hand over to Uzbekistan a refugee who escaped extradition from Russia. If this information proves correct, then Ukraine’s authorities will for the third time in recent months be in grave breach of international law.

According to the information received, the decision to extradite Khurmatillo Zokirov was taken on 25 January 2013.  Zokirov, together with his Kyiv lawyer, have appealed against the decision since if forcibly returned to Uzbekistan he will almost certainly be subjected to torture and other forms of prohibited treatment.

Zokirov had been travelling to the Kaliningrad region to work over a number of years before in May 2010 he received a temporary residence permit. He was planning to apply for permanent residence in the Russian Federation and Russian citizenship.

Then in October 2010 he was detained because in Uzbekistan he had been accused in his absence of keeping and circulating Muslim literature which the Uzbekistan authorities deemed “extremist” and on that basis of participation in a banned religious organization.

His Russian defence was organized by the Memorial Human Rights Centre.  His lawyer, Yekaterina Gribanova first succeeded in getting an extradition decision overturned, and then in preventing the authorities from using administrative expulsion as a way around the failure to obtain Zokirov’s extradition.

However arrests were continuing in Kaliningrad aimed at extraditing people to Uzbekistan in order to face charges similar to those against Zokirov. In other regions of the Russian Federation people whom the Russian authorities could not extradite because of bans imposed by the European Court of Human Rights.

Zokirov felt increasingly in danger and in June 2012 decided to move to Ukraine.

He was, however, detained on arrival at Boryspil Airport .  Yelena Ryabina and her colleagues believe the Kyiv authorities may have been passed information by their Russian colleagues.  She points out that the Ukrainian authorities appear to be behaving much like their Russian counterparts before a number o European Court of Human Rights interventions and judgements prompted a gradual improvement in the situation in Russia. 

Certainly the fact that the Prosecutor General’s Office decided to extradite Zokirov at all is deeply disturbing given the charges against him in his own country.

Yelena Ryabinina is right in saying that just a few years ago it would have been inconceivable that the Ukrainian authorities would hand Zokirov back to Karimov’s torture-happy henchmen.  Following the outrage over the forced return of 11 Uzbeks in 2006, there was a period in which similar violations were avoided.

This is clearly no longer the case.

As reported, in August 2012 an asylum seeker from Ingushetia who had been offered asylum in an EU country was forcibly returned to the Russian Federation.

Then in October, Leonid Razvozzhaev, a leftwing political activist in Russia was abducted while in the process of asking for political asylum and forcibly returned to Moscow. He has been in custody ever since.  He was first remanded in custody over charges derived from an anti-opposition programme on the pro-Kremlin NTV channel. The investigators then revived , a matter of days before the case was to be time-barred, a criminal case dating back 15 years, as well as charging Razvozzhaev with illegal crossing of the border, although this totally conflicts with the Ukrainian border guards’ information.

The most frightening cynicism came on 18 January this year when the Investigation Commission informed that Razvozzaev has been charged under Article 306 § 2 of the RF Criminal Code – knowingly false allegations (literally, denunciation).  The Commission’s Central Investigation Department has supposedly checked out Razvozzaev’s allegation that he was tortured by an investigator from the same Commission during the period from 19 to 21 October 2012.  Since, not surprisingly, it failed to conclude that investigators from the same department had committed these acts, and since Razvozzhev remains adamant that he was subjected to torture and pressure, he now faces a new – fourth – charge of making knowingly false claims which, were he to be convicted, would carry a sentence of up to 3 years imprisonment. It would also create the most shocking precedent making those tortured loath to open their mouths.

Ukraine will be in serious breach of domestic law and its international commitments if it extradites Zokirov  to face charges clearly linked with religious convictions as well as to a country which the European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly found in violation of the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment.

This comes during Ukraine’s chairmanship of the OSCE and just a week before the EU-Ukraine summit. 

The Human Rights Ombudsperson, civic organizations and the UNHCR must act now. 

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