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Rights Watchdog Condemns 'Forcible Return' Of Uzbeks From Russia

  • Farangis Najibullah

Mirsobir Khamidkariev, a film producer and businessman, was accused by Uzbekistan of setting up an illegal Islamist group. He was abducted in Moscow and handed over by Russian security officers to Uzbek authorities who forcibly returned him to Uzbekistan, where he was tortured and jailed.

Mirsobir Khamidkariev, a film producer and businessman, was accused by Uzbekistan of setting up an illegal Islamist group. He was abducted in Moscow and handed over by Russian security officers to Uzbek authorities who forcibly returned him to Uzbekistan, where he was tortured and jailed.

Amnesty International is accusing Moscow of "lending a helping hand" to torture in Uzbekistan by aiding in the forcible returns of hundreds of Uzbek nationals from Russia.

In a new report released on April 21, the rights watchdog says hundreds of asylum seekers, refugees, and migrant workers have been deported or abducted in forced returns to Uzbekistan, where they have been subjected to torture by Uzbek authorities.

The group says Russia has cooperated despite the "clear risks" of torture upon these individuals' return.

In the report, Fast-Track To Torture: Abductions And Forcible Returns From Russia To Uzbekistan, Amnesty says that in the rare cases when Moscow denied Tashkent's extradition requests, Uzbek security forces were allowed to abduct wanted Uzbek nationals from Russia.

John Dalhuisen, Amnesty's director for Europe and Central Asia, called on Moscow to put an end to such "abductions and deportations, which violate its human rights obligations."

Dalhuisen said Russia must ensure that no one at risk of torture is returned to Uzbekistan. "Every pressure must be put on Uzbekistan to stop the use of torture and other ill-treatment and ensure that all trials are conducted fairly and fully meet international standards," he said.

The rights group said Uzbek authorities seek to justify their prosecution of political opponents, critics, and alleged followers of Islamic groups as a campaign against terrorism.

It said Moscow denied a 2013 request by Tashkent to extradite Mirsobir Khamidkariev, a film producer and businessman accused by Uzbekistan of setting up an illegal Islamist group.

According to Amnesty International, the charge against Khamidkariev stemmed from his comments at an informal gathering where he expressed his support for the hijab, the Islamic head scarf for women.

In 2014, Khamidkariev was abducted in Moscow and handed over by Russian security officers to Uzbek authorities who forcibly returned him to Uzbekistan, Amnesty said.

The rights group said that in Uzbek custody Khamidkariev was beaten repeatedly, suffered two broken ribs, and had seven of his teeth knocked out by security forces who obtained his "confession."

Khamidkariev was subsequently convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison.

Brother Tortured For 'Terror' Conviction

The rights watchdog also condemns what it describes as Uzbekistan's common practice of harassing and threatening family members to incriminate a relative.

It says Artur Avakian, an ethnic Armenian, was detained for weeks in January 2016 and subjected to torture -- including so much electric shock "his tongue stuck to his gums" -- until he implicated his brother, Aramais Avakian, in "terrorist" acts.

Aramais Avakian was later jailed for seven years on charges of supporting the Islamic State extremist group, in a case relatives say was engineered to let local officials take over his successful fish farm.

Aramais Avakian, who was brought into court on a stretcher, told the Jizzakh regional court that he, too, was tortured during nearly five months of pretrial detention.

Amnesty says there are many other similar cases in Uzbekistan, where the victims have faced unfair trials with confessions obtained under duress.

Uzbek security forces threaten the relatives that if they turn to human rights organizations for help, conditions for their detained loved ones will be made worse, the rights watchdog said.

In the past three years, the European Court of Human Rights has issued at least 17 judgments denouncing what it described as the forcible transfer of individuals to Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan has long been criticized by rights groups and Western governments for its abysmal human rights record.

Maisy Weicherding, the main author of Amnesty International's latest report, told RFE/RL on April 20 that such criticism, along with reports documenting Uzbekistan's human rights violations, have a direct impact.

"For example, Amnesty's report last year -- Secrets And Lies: Forced Confessions Under Torture In Uzbekistan -- was used extensively by the European Court of Human Rights as well as by the Constitutional Court in Turkey," she said, leading Turkey to stop the extradition of Uzbek asylum seekers back to Uzbekistan.

The Amnesty researcher for Central Asia said that while researching the latest report, "it became obvious to us that both Russian and Uzbek authorities blatantly disregard their human rights obligations."

Weicherding reiterated Amnesty's call on Uzbekistan and Russia to "put an immediate stop to torture and abductions, and bring all perpetrators to justice for these abhorrent human-rights violations."

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