PRAGUE, 16 February 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Conflicting reports on the case of the Uzbek citizens have made the situation unclear since it was first reported last week. It is not clear how many Uzbek nationals were detained in Crimea or why they were detained.
Ukraine's UNIAN news agency reported that 10 Uzbeks were detained on 7 February in Crimea at the request of Uzbek authorities. Official Tashkent reportedly suspected the 10 men of involvement in the uprising in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon in May 2005.
Confusion Over Details
Two Moscow-based human rights organizations -- Memorial and Grazhdanskoye Sodeistviye -- issued a press release on 13 February saying that 11 Uzbeks were detained in Crimea on 7 February. The release contained their names.
The press release said Uzbek authorities requested the extradition of the 11 people because of their alleged involvement in the Andijon events, in which hundreds were reportedly killed.
The two organizations referred to Uzbek political refugees in Ukraine and said three people out of 11 were eyewitnesses to the Andijon events, though the others had come to Ukraine earlier.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Interior Ministry told RFE/RL on 15 February that only six Uzbek citizens were detained in two Crimean Peninsula districts.
Oleksandr Dombrovskiy, spokesman for the Interior Ministry's Crimean Division, said the Ukrainian authorities were considering extraditing the six men to Uzbekistan.
"We have information on six Uzbek citizens," he says. "Five of them were detained in Belohirsk raion [and] one in Nyzhnohirsk. These citizens came to Ukraine for three months. Three months later, they did not leave Ukraine as they should have. So they were [detained]. They had to pay 340 hryvna each as a fine, it's equal to some $60. Some of them had been [detained] several times before. Now we are considering whether to extradite them [to Uzbekistan]."
Dombrovskiy also said the six Uzbeks were detained in a police raid against illegal migrants. But he refused to give the names of the detained Uzbeks and elaborate on whether they were suspected in involvement in the Andijon uprising.
Yet Another Version
Later on 15 February, the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) in Kyiv said the Uzbek citizens were extradited to their home country on a decision by the Crimean court.
The SBU's spokeswoman, Marina Ostapenko, spoke to RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service from Kyiv. "During the operation, organized by security services in collaboration with the Interior Ministry as part of the fight against illegal migration, 10 Uzbek citizens were detained," she says. "As they were on Ukrainian territory illegally, and thus violated Ukrainian legislation, the court in the Kyivsky District of Simferopol [of Crimean Autonomy] ruled on 14 February that they should be deported from Ukraine."
Ostapenko said the SBU did not have information on the Uzbek citizens' involvement in the Andijon events. She added that the detained people possessed no documents for being refugees or asylum seekers.
However, Yelena Ryabinina of the Grazhdanskoye Sodeistviye human rights group told RFE/RL today that at least nine of the 11 people had officially applied for asylum in Ukraine; therefore their deportation, if it has taken place, was illegal.
She also said the six detained on 7 February were identified by Ukrainian authorities as illegal labor migrants, and that the SBU was checking the documents of the other five people.
Natalia Prokopchuk, regional adviser of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Kyiv, confirmed Ryabinina's information and also tells RFE/RL that the Uzbeks' deportation violates Ukrainian and international legislation.
"Those people applied for refugee status to the Ukrainian state committee on migrants, which gives refugee status and has branches in all regions of the country, including Crimea," she says. "The committee also said those people had a right to appeal to a court in accordance with Ukrainian law on the status of refugees and the Geneva Convention."
Prokopchuk says UNHCR officers have been in contact with the state committee on migrants as well as the SBU. She adds that she learned about the Uzbeks' deportation from media and says the UNHCR in Kyiv is investigating the case.
Ukraine's state migrant committee told RFE/RL in Kyiv that they do not give information on refugees to media organizations. There have been several cases of Uzbeks being detained in Ukraine since the Andijon uprising.
Last year, a group of Uzbeks coming to Ukraine from Russia was stuck at the Ukrainian border for several days. The group eventually had to return to Russia. Among them were old people and children, including one 75-year-old woman.
Ryabinina of the Grazhdanskoye Sodeistviye human rights group tells RFE/RL that if the information about the Uzbeks' deportation is true, it is the first case in the post-Orange Revolution era that Ukrainian officials cooperated with their Uzbek counterparts.
After February 1999 explosions in Tashkent, Uzbek authorities also requested the extradition of four Uzbek citizens from Ukraine. Among them was Safar Bekjon, the brother of Erk opposition party leader Muhammad Solih. All four were extradited and imprisoned for allegedly masterminding the bombings.
Ryabinina expressed the fear that the Uzbeks, if returned home, may be subject to harassment and torture in Uzbek detention facilities: "In Uzbekistan today, torture is a widely used practice and there is no independent judiciary. That has already been confirmed by reputable international organizations, including the UN high commissioners on human rights and on refugees. There is no doubt that if the extradition takes place, those people will be brutally forced to admit any guilt [authorities] want them to admit."
The UN special rapporteur on torture, Theo van Boven, visited Uzbekistan in December 2002 and concluded torture was "systematic" in the country's prisons and detention facilities.
(RFE/RL's Ukrainian and Uzbek services contributed to this report.)