PRAGUE, August 9, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- All five detainees are said to have been handed over to Uzbek authorities earlier today.
Samuddin Satarov, head of a pretrial detention facility in the city of Osh, where the five had been held, confirmed the news to Reuters. Satarov said they were sent by car for the roughly one hour's drive to the Uzbek border.
Four of the deportees -- Jahongir Maqsudov, Yoqub Toshboev, Odiljon Rahimov, and Rasuljon Pirmatov -- were arrested in June 2005 and held in Kyrgyz custody despite the UN refugee agency's (UNHCR) acknowledgement that they were asylum seekers.
The fifth, Fayoz Tojihalilov, was arrested in September.
Human rights groups had called on Kyrgyzstan not to extradite the five men -- saying they might face torture or execution in Uzbekistan.
Vitaly Maslovsky is with the UNHCR in Kyrgyzstan. He told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that official Bishkek's decision is "very wrong" because it contravenes a 1951 UN convention on refugees.
Maslovsky said Kyrgyzstan -- which is a signatory to the convention -- was obliged not to extradite suspects to countries where their lives or rights could be in danger. Kyrgyzstan also has obligations to cooperate with the UNHCR, he said.
"From the point of view of international law, everything was clear," Maslovsky said. "On the other hand, a country may be guided by its political interests, not its obligations under the refugees convention. Naturally, relations between neighboring countries influence these kinds of decisions. But from a humanitarian point of view, it is a very wrong decision."
Tursunbek Akun chairs the Human Rights Commission under Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev. In an interview today with RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, he condemned the prosecutors' decision to extradite the men.
"[The prosecutor-general] brought shame on us, on Kyrgyzstan, in the international community's eyes," Akun said. "He did not respect international conventions, international norms. Prosecutor-General [Kambaraly] Kongantiev simply sought ways to please Uzbekistan. That is why we are issuing a statement that condemns a personal action, an officeholder's action, [the action of] Mr. Kongantiev."
These five represent the second group of Andijon refugees that Kyrgyz authorities have returned to Uzbekistan. The first four men were handed over to the Uzbek security service in June 2005. They were all subsequently tried on terrorism charges and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.
Otanazar Oripov, the secretary-general of Uzbekistan's unregistered Erk (Freedom) opposition party, suggested to RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that the five men are likely to face torture.
"Returning people who have been held in Kyrgyz custody but who already had refugee status from the United Nations refugee agency to the will of the Uzbek government is a very bad event, because the whole world is aware of torture in Uzbekistan, arbitrary execution, and unjust verdicts," Oripov said. "[The Kyrgyz government] knew this. I therefore condemn their decision on [these] extraditions."
Overriding Bilateral Concerns?
Oripov added that Kyrgyz prosecutors' decision marks a serious setback in the country's democratic development. He also said it signals stronger cooperation between Tashkent and Bishkek.
Cholpon Jakupova heads the human rights group Adilet (Justice). She noted that the decision comes ahead of an Uzbek-Kyrgyz summit scheduled for later this year that will bring together President Bakiev with Uzbekistan's president, Islam Karimov.
"[It is] a special present from [Kyrgyz] President Bakiev to President Karimov before his visit [to Uzbekistan]," Jakupova said. "There is nothing to comment on. It is clear."
Kyrgyzstan cooperated with the UNHCR and international human rights groups in deciding the fate of hundreds of refugees who fled the bloodshed in Andijon in May 2005. Four hundred and thirty-nine refugees were flown to Romania in July 2005 and subsequently resettled in North America and Europe with refugee status.