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Kazakhstan: Uzbek With UN Refugee Status Detained In Almaty

(RFE/RL) PRAGUE, June 28, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Uzbek citizen Gabdurafih Temirboev was detained in the Kazakh city of Almaty on June 24 despite having United Nations refugee status. Temirboev's wife, Bakhtygul Omonova, said three men purporting to be Kazakh police burst into their house in Almaty overnight on June 24 and took her husband away.

Omonova said her husband, who is 33, was granted refugee status by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on June 16.

Temirboev has lived for more than seven years with his family in Kazakhstan. He lived in Almaty with three other Uzbek asylum seekers and their families.

Omonova denies her husband has committed any crimes and says Temirboev has been wanted by Uzbek police for "simply being a peaceful Muslim."

Unexpected Visitors

Speaking to RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, Omonova gave details of her husband's detention.

"They broke into our house at 3:45 in the morning when everybody was asleep," she said. "All the men were asleep. As we learned later, they were watching us. Then, they opened the door [to the room] and told the men: 'Hey, get up. Do you have any documents?' They threatened the men. [My husband's] friend, Islomjon, got sick because he has [insular diabetes]. Another friend [was shocked] and had chest pains. They were unable to get up. We, women and children, were sleeping in another room. We got very scared."

Omonova said her husband showed his UN refugee card. One of the alleged police, who was wearing a Kazakh police uniform, explained that a car in the neighborhood had been broken into. They then took Omonova's husband away because they said he looked like a suspect, she said.

Omonova did not receive any information about her husband in the following days and the Almaty police denied arresting Temirboev. That's when some suggested that he may have been abducted by the Uzbek secret service.

Speaking to RFE/RL's Kazakh Service on June 26, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry's Almaty office, Arman Zhusanbai, hinted at the possible involvement of Uzbekistan.

"We have absolutely no information regarding the present situation [regarding Temirboev]," he said. "Nobody told us anything. Maybe it's their country [Uzbekistan] that took [Temirboev] away."

Secret Service Admits Detention

Finally, information appeared today that Temirboev has been held by the Kazakh secret service, the KNB.

Speaking to RFE/RL from Almaty, Yevgeny Zhovtis, the head of Kazakhstan's International Bureau for Human Rights, said he has no information about the charges that Temirboev faces.

"This is not clear," he said. "Formally, no charges have been brought against him. We only got official confirmation that he is in the detention center of Kazakhstan's National Security Committee. He was detained by National Security Committee officers. Before we had only a denial of his arrest from the Interior Ministry. What charges are brought against him? What suspicions? Are there any documents, like an extradition request from Uzbekistan's prosecutors? All these questions remain unclear."

The UNHCR has been involved in the process. Cesar Dubon, UNHCR representative in Kazakhstan, told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service on June 26 that the agency is seeking an explanation from Kazakh authorities.

"[Kazakhstan's] Foreign Ministry is due to contact us with the final statement," he said. "So, for the time being, we are waiting for the confirmation."

Seeking Information

Dubon told RFE/RL in an e-mail today that the Kazakh Foreign Ministry has promised to provide details of Temirboev's detention and access to him as soon as possible.

Omonova wrote an open letter to President Nursultan Nazarbaev and other Kazakh officials on June 25 asking for help in gaining the release of her husband. Kazakh officials have not yet responded to the letter, according to an Uzbek friend of Temirboev who also lives in Almaty but does not want to be identified.

"When a request was sent to the Foreign Ministry, they responded that if Temirboev is still in Kazakh territory, they would not let him out," he said. "But there was no further response. No official response has been given by the government."

Temirboev, his wife, and their two young children have lived in Kazakhstan since March 1999. They moved to Almaty from the southern Kazakh city of Shymkent near the Uzbek border in late 2005.

Omonova says they decided to move to Almaty after several Uzbek refugees were abducted by the Uzbek security service (SNB) and forcibly returned to Uzbekistan.

Religious Repression

Last November, the Moscow-based Memorial human rights group reported that at least nine Uzbeks who had left their country under harassment for their religious activities were kidnapped in Shymkent and turned over to Uzbek authorities. Witnesses claimed that the abductions were carried out by the SNB. As these reports appeared, some 60 Uzbeks residing in southern Kazakhstan with their families asked the UNHCR Almaty office for asylum.

Omonova denied her husband has committed any crimes and said Temirboev has been wanted by Uzbek police for "simply being a peaceful Muslim." She also said that she has been under pressure, receiving threatening phone calls and demands to give information about an Uzbek relative.

Omonova does not have refugee status and says she is afraid of being forcibly returned to Uzbekistan.

"My two children are crying," she said. "We are in someone else's house. Our situation is very hard, financially and otherwise. I fear for my husband, his possible return to Uzbekistan. We came here because we wanted peace. My husband is an ordinary Muslim. I don't want to return to my country with my children because life is very hard there, not only economically but also in regards to other issues."

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