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Mari El Supreme Court upholds Russian Prosecutor General’s decision to extradite Andijan refugee

Abdumutallib Karimov, who witnessed the Andijan events of May 2005, is still under asylum procedure in the Russian Federation; he has been recognized as needing international protection by the UNHCR and would almost certainly face torture if returned to Uzbekistan

On 31 October a panel of judges on criminal cases of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Mari El rejected the appeal lodged by lawyer Roman Zilberman against the decision by the RF Prosecutor General to extradite Andijan refugee Abdumutallib Karimov to Uzbekistan.

It should be noted that the examination of the appeal which began on 28 October was carried out remarkably correctly and in accordance with procedural norms. The court allowed questioning of a specialist – Yelena Ryabinina who is in charge of the aid programme for refugees from Central Asia of the Civic Assistance Committee and who spoke of systematic torture of remand and convicted prisoners in Uzbekistan. The court allowed documentary evidence of this to be attached to the file, together with an appeal from the UNHCR stating that Karimov meets the criteria of “refugee” set down in the UN Convention of 1951 “On the status of a refugee” and has been recognized as needing international protection, and must not be extradited.

Roman Zilberman also stressed that both Russian and international law categorically prohibit the forced return to their country of origin of refugees and asylum seekers.

  Particular attention was given to the European Court of Human Rights judgment in the case of the “Ivanovo Uzbeks” which gave an unequivocally conclusion of the inadmissibility of extraditing to Uzbekistan people accused of involvement in the events of 12-13 May in Andijan due to the serious threat they faced of torture.  The lawyer pointed out that in the accusations presented against Karimov by the Uzbek side among his alleged “accomplices” are three of the “Ivanovo Uzbeks”, including Ilkhomzhon Ismolov, the person whose name is in the title of the case in Strasbourg – “Ismolov and others vs. Russia”.  In view of this, the conclusions of the European Court of Human Rights should be regarded as fully applying to Karimov in resolving the question of whether he be handed over to Uzbekistan.

Given the virtually flawless court hearing, the ruling of the court upholding the Prosecutor General’s decision to extradite despite even the fact that Karimov is still within the process for determining refugee status would seem at very least strange. On 22 October his relevant application was finally accepted for consideration by the Department of the Russian Federal Migration Service for the Republic of Mari El.

It is difficult to explain this as anything but the influence of agreements concluded by Russia within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization which effectively mean unconditionally handing over people accused of terrorism, separatism and extremism. It seems most likely that it was specifically this position from the Russian Federation which was reflected by the judgment of the Court in Strasbourg over the “Ivano Uzbeks”. This states that that the Court “is not convinced by the Government’ argument that they had an obligation under international law to cooperate in fighting terrorism and had a duty to extradite the applicants who were accused of terrorist activities, irrespective of a threat of ill-treatment in the receiving country”

Mr Karimov’s lawyer plans to lodge a cassation appeal within the legally established time frame against the ruling of the Mari El Supreme Court.

At the same time, the fact must be borne in mind that if the cassation appeal is rejected, then the decision by the Prosecutor General to extradite Abdumutallib Karimov will come into force with effect from the announcement of the ruling, after which Karimov can be sent back to Uzbekistan on the next flight.  The defence therefore plans to apply to the European Court of Human Rights that it halts extradition in accordance with Rule 39 of the Court’s Regulations.  The ruling passed by the Mari El Supreme Court has thus prompted a new case in Strasbourg which will this time become “Karimov v. Russia”.

It should be noted that the extradition case involving Abdumutallib Karimov is not the only such case involving Andijan refugees presently under consideration in Russia. On 30 October, for example, the Moscow City Court deferred for a month examination of the appeal against the decision to extradite to Uzbekistan Murod Yuldashev who, like Karimov, witnessed the shooting by government forces of the demonstration on Bobur Square in Andijan on 13 May 2005.

The Russian Federation’s Prosecutor General is thus stubbornly and consistently ignoring Russia’s obligations under international agreements which impose an absolute ban on torture and therefore on extraditing people to countries where there is a serious risk that torture will be applied.

Abdumutallib Karimov happened to witness the shooting by government forces of an Andijan rally in May 2005 and was detained in Yoshkar-Oly on 11 June 2008.

In Uzbekistan Karimov worked in a food store in a village 40 kilometres from Andijan. On the morning of 13 May he went to Andijan to collect goods, heard that there was a rally going on and that they were expecting the arrival of President Islam Karimov. Abdumutallib went to the square, where during the shooting he managed to break free of the crowd and later flee the country, fearing persecution suffered by many witnesses of the Andijan Massacre.

Yelena Ryabinina

Civic Assistance Committee

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