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Uzbek Who Swam To Estonia Wants Political Asylum In Russia

Uzbek refugee Rakhim Sobirov was deported from Estonia earlier this year.

Uzbek refugee Rakhim Sobirov was deported from Estonia earlier this year.

ST.PETERSBURG, Russia -- An Uzbek who swam across a river from Russia to reach Estonia is applying for political asylum in Russia following his release from jail there, RFE/RL's Uzbek service reports.

The Estonian authorities deported Rakhim Sobirov, 30, to Russia in September after he swam across the 300 meter-wide Narva River and entered Estonia illegally.

He was tried in St. Petersburg, found guilty of illegally crossing the border, and sentenced to two months in jail.

Sobirov was among a group of Uzbek asylum seekers wanted by Tashkent on religious extremism charges who were arrested in Kazakhstan last year. He traveled to Russia after his release from detention.

Sobirov told RFE/RL after his release from jail on November 18 that he now has a document issued by Russia's Memorial Human Rights Center, which he will use as an identity document. He said his lawyer has helped him file an application for political asylum in Russia.

When asked by RFE/RL why he decided to leave Russia for Estonia, Sobirov said he was very afraid of remaining in Russia.

He said that there are bilateral agreements between Russia and Uzbekistan on the extradition of wanted persons, and that he thought he might face problems similar to those he encountered in Kazakhstan.

Sobirov was one of 30 Uzbek asylum seekers arrested by Kazakh police in Almaty last year on Tashkent's request.

Sobirov was released from Kazakh custody because he and his wife had a one-month-old son, and immediately left for Russia. The remaining 29 Uzbek asylum seekers were sent back to Uzbekistan in June.

The Uzbek authorities requested their extradition on the grounds that they were "members of extremist religious organizations." The Uzbek asylum seekers deny this.

Sobirov's wife, Kazakh national Moldir Moldakhanova, told RFE/RL in September that her husband left all his identity documents at home, fearing that he might be extradited to Uzbekistan at the request of the Uzbek authorities if he had Uzbek identity papers with him.

Sobirov's wife and son are currently in Kazakhstan.

Read more in Uzbek here