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Russia/U.S.: Mothers Of Guantanamo Detainees Fear Sons' Extradition

Russia is seeking the extradition of eight Russian citizens currently being detained at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. But some of the detainees' mothers say their sons' extradition would be the worst possible outcome. They say they would prefer them to remain at the U.S. base rather than be returned to Russia, where they would face harassment and imprisonment.

Prague, 5 August 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Among the 600 suspected terrorists captured in Afghanistan and now detained at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay are eight Russian citizens.

They include: Shamil Khadzhiev and Ravil Gumarov from Bashkortostan, Rasul Kudaev and Ruslan Odigov from Kabardino-Balkaria, Ravil Mingazov and Airat Vakhitov from Tatarstan, Rustam Akmerov from Chelyabinsk, and Timur Ishmuradov from Tyumen Oblast.

Russia is eager to see their return. First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov was recently in Washington to discuss their possible extradition.

RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service recently spoke with the family members of two of the detainees. One is Amina Hasanova, the mother of Airat Vakhitov. Vakhitov was born in Tatarstan, and as an adult became the imam at a mosque in the republic. Hasanova said her son went to Chechnya in 1999 to study Islam, but was quickly detained by Chechen fighters, who suspected him of being a Russian spy. He was released after several months and returned to Tatarstan.

At that point, Hasanova said, he began to experience harassment by the Russian security services, and fled to Afghanistan. Hasanova said she learned of his fate after receiving a letter from him last November. She said her son is feeling well and is satisfied with the conditions of his detention at Guantanamo.

"He writes that he is treated kindly and with respect, that he has good food, cleanliness, and as he says in his letter, he feels better than if he was at the best Russian sanatoriums," Hasanova said.

Vakhitov's mother said he also writes that his fellow detainees are friendly toward him, and that they often lend each other copies of the Koran and pray together. Hasanova is aware of the Russian efforts to extradite the detainees for trial at home, and said the thought fills her with dread.

"I am terribly afraid that he may be returned to Russia and put into a Russian prison. It would be very terrible. It is terrible for me and for all Muslims. It is terrible," she said. "I am afraid of everything in the Russian jails. It is better for me that he remains there than to be jailed in Russia."

Nina Adizheva is the mother of Rasul Kudaev of Kabardino-Balkaria. She said her son left Russia for Afghanistan after being persecuted for his Muslim activities at home. But she said Rasul could not have fought in Afghanistan because of his weak health. Now, Rasul is in Guantanamo Bay and his mother said she fears he will be prosecuted, tortured, and killed if he is extradited to Russia.

"I appeal to the government of the United States: Do not extradite my son to Russia, because he went to Afghanistan before 11 September and he is not a terrorist, but a victim of political repression [at home]. I also appeal to the countries of the European Union and ask them to grant my son political asylum, because if he returns home his life will be in great danger," she said.

Many countries whose nationals are currently among the Guantanamo detainees are seeking their extradition. Zumrati Juma, the mother of one of nine British nationals, told a press conference recently that she feared for her son, now in detention for 18 months. She said she has not heard from him since February, and asked for British authorities to help return her son home.

British Attorney General Peter Goldsmith opened talks with U.S. counterparts last week over the fate of the Britons at Guantanamo. He has reportedly won U.S. assurances that some of the detainees will not face the death penalty, including Juma's son Feroz Abbasi.

The situation is different in Russia. Some of the families of the detainees say they feel abandoned by the authorities.

Detainee Shamil Khadzhiev worked as an investigator in Bashkortostan and later left for Chechnya to serve with Russian troops. He then disappeared, and his mother later received a letter from him when he was already at Guantanamo Bay. She said Russian officials have offered her no assistance in getting information about her son, and that she knows nothing about the status of the negotiations between the U.S. and Russian officials.

RFE/RL's repeated efforts to learn from the Russian Foreign Ministry about what Russia is doing to secure the release of the detainees were unsuccessful.

Amnesty International has repeatedly accused the U.S. of violating the rights of the Guantanamo detainees. In a press release issued early this year, the group detailed the detainees' conditions by saying, in part, that they had, "No access to the courts, lawyers or relatives; the prospect of indefinite detention in small cells for up to 24 hours a day; the possibility of trials by executive military commissions with the power to hand down death sentences and no right of appeal."

Still, some Russian citizens say this is no worse a fate for the detainees than the prospect of being returned to Russia.

(RFE/RL's North Caucasus and Tatar-Bashkir services contributed to this report.)