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Russia: European Court Rules For 'Andijon' Plaintiffs, Warns Against Extradition

President Islam Karimov's image rises above the street in Andijon (epa) The European Court of Human Rights has ruled against Russia in a case involving 13 Central Asian businessmen who are fighting to block their extradition to Uzbekistan, where their lawyer says they could face torture or even execution.

The Strasbourg court ordered Russian authorities to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages to the 13 men, one of whom is Kyrgyz and 12 of whom are Uzbek nationals, because they violated their rights when they held them for as long as 20 months without trial. It also cautioned Russia against handing any of the plaintiffs over to Uzbek authorities.

Tashkent has alleged that the men helped finance a broad plot in 2005 that was aimed at freeing a handful of alleged Islamic extremists in Andijon, in eastern Uzbekistan, and destabilizing the central government. Officials responded to the unrest with a security crackdown in which eyewitnesses say hundreds of unarmed protesters were killed.

One of the Uzbek defendants, Shukrullah Sobirov, told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service on April 25 that the accusations against himself and his fellow defendants "are baseless and obviously fabricated by the officials."

He called allegations that he and his fellow defendants had received at least $200,000 to further the antigovernment cause "complete slander," adding, "Honestly, back then, we didn't even have enough money to pay our rent."

Fearing persecution in Uzbekistan, the men fled soon after the Andijon tragedy to Russia, where they sought asylum. Instead, they were arrested in June 2005 on the basis of the Uzbek warrants.

The group's lawyer appealed to the Strasbourg court, citing concerns over possible torture or execution if they were returned to their homeland.

On April 24, the European Court of Human Rights ordered Russia to pay each of the men roughly $24,000 in damages and a combined $28,000 in legal fees.

The court also warned against extraditing the men to Uzbekistan, saying such a move would further breach the plaintiffs' rights because they would face imminent arrest and possibly torture.

Russia, a member of the Council of Europe, has three months to appeal the decision.

Uzbekistan has long been criticized by rights groups for alleged ill-treatment of prisoners.

Irina Sokolova, the defendants' Russian lawyer, says Uzbek authorities claim that the men continue to pose a threat.

"I would also like to point out that Uzbek law enforcement officials wrote in the men's criminal cases that they have been involved in extremist and terrorist activities on Russian territory," says Sokolova, who noted that Russian authorities have been unable to corroborate such claims. "After investigating the case at the request of the Russian prosecutor-general, the Russian side said that they could not find any proof or information to confirm those allegations."

The men say Russian human rights activists, including the Memorial group, have provided support by attracting media and politicians' attention to the case.

In May 2005, months of minor protests surrounding the trials of 23 businessmen accused of being members of the banned Islamic group Akramiya culminated in an attack on a jail and other public facilities in which many prisoners were freed. The next day, according to eyewitnesses, hundreds of unarmed residents were killed when security forces opened fire on a crowd of demonstrators who had gathered in central Andijon to criticize the government and demand better social conditions.

Tashkent has consistently rejected international calls to allow an independent probe into the events in Andijon.

Hundreds of Uzbeks fled Andijon for neighboring Kyrgyzstan in the days after the violence, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) eventually granted them refugee status and helped relocate them to third countries.

Under intense pressure from Tashkent, neighboring Kyrgyzstan has extradited five Uzbek nationals accused of involvement in the Andijon violence. The move sparked condemnations from human rights groups and the UNHCR, which described it as a violation of international law.

RFE/RL's Uzbek Service correspondent Oktambek Karimov contributed to this report

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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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