UN rights watchdog stops Ukraine from extraditing asylum seeker to Russia
The UN Human Rights Committee has ordered the Ukrainian authorities to halt extradition of Timur Tumgoev to Russia, pending consideration of his assertion that he would face torture if forcibly returned. The appeal to the UN watchdog against the planned extradition was sent in April by Kharkiv Human Rights Group lawyers after all other avenues failed.
30-year-old Tumgoev is from Ingushetia in the Russian Federation and was detained at Kharkiv Airport on June 17, 2016 on his arrival from Turkey where he had been living for two years. The detention was yet again because Russia had placed him on the INTERPOL wanted list. He has been held in the Kharkiv SIZO [remand prison] ever since.
Tumgoev had applied for asylum in Ukraine asserting that he faced danger in the RF because of his religion. The State Migration Service ignored the huge weight of material presented on abductions, killings, torture and illegal imprisonment on political or religious grounds in the Northern Caucuses and turned down his application.
Tumgoev says that he was detained on numerous occasions in the RF and beaten by officers from the so-called Centre for Countering Extremism. He asserts that the police and FSB [Russian security service] tried to get him to act as an informer. During one search they planted some bullets, however the neighbours called in as witnesses refused to sign the search protocol. After this, Tumgoev says, he left, first for Georgia and then for Turkey. He told Ukrainian SBU [Security Service] officers that he had come to Ukraine to join a volunteer battalion fighting for Ukraine against Kremlin-backed militants in Donbas. There have been protests outside the Kharkiv SIZO by volunteer fighters who consider Ukraine’s plans to extradite Tumgoev outrageous.
According to the documents provided by Russia’s Prosecutor General, an arrest warrant on Tumgoev was issued in December 2015, on charges under Article 208 § 2 of the RF criminal code. This envisages a sentence of up to 15 years for what is termed “participation in an armed formation, also participation on the territory of a foreign state in an armed formation not envisaged by the legislation of the given state, for purposes which run counter to the interests of the Russian Federation”.
Worth noting that the armed formations in eastern Ukraine are not envisaged by Ukrainian law, yet the only Russian convicted (in absentia) of fighting in Ukraine is Artem Shirobokov, who fought in a legal Ukrainian battalion.
Russia has, however, brought charges under this same article against veteran Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev and the Head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis Refat Chubarov. Both men were first banned from their homeland after Russia’s invasion of Crimea, and now face criminal charges of such “activities running counter to Russian interests’. On March 21, 2016, further charges were brought of undergoing training aimed at carrying out terrorist activities (205 § 3); and taking part in an organization recognized as terrorist in Russia (205.5 § 2).
It is unclear what, if any, hard evidence the Russian Prosecutor General has for such charges. The last of these articles is also one that requires close scrutiny. Russia is currently holding 19 Ukrainian Muslims prisoner, either in Russia or in occupied Crimea, on precisely such a charge, with this alleging involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir. This organization is legal in Ukraine and most countries, and is not known to have committed a terrorist act anywhere in the world. Doubts about Russia’s motives in declaring it ‘terrorist’ are among the many reasons the Memorial Human Rights Centre declares all those sentenced merely on grounds of proven or alleged involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir political prisoners.
On the eve of his threatened extradition, Tumgoev tried to slash his wrists. There are real grounds for fearing that he would be subjected to torture if returned, and the UN Human Rights Committee’s decision is therefore an important victory – achieved thanks to KHPG lawyers Volodymyr Hlushchenko and Olena Ashchenko.