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Tajik Wrongly Imprisoned In Russia Finds Justice In Strasbourg

Rahmatullo Nazarov says he endured threats, beatings, and terrible conditions while wrongly imprisoned in Russia.
Rahmatullo Nazarov says he endured threats, beatings, and terrible conditions while wrongly imprisoned in Russia.
Aspiring veterinarian Rahmatullo Nazarov was at work at a poultry farm on the outskirts of Dushanbe in late November when he received the news he had been waiting for.

It came in the form of a verdict from the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled in favor of the 29-year-old Tajik citizen's complaint against Russia.

Nazarov had turned to the Strasbourg-based court to seek justice for the inhumane treatment he suffered while imprisoned in Russia for three years on drug charges. The court supported Nazarov's claims that his right to freedom and personal security had been violated, and ordered Russia to pay more than 18,000 euros ($27,000) in compensation.

Nazarov tells RFE/RL's Tajik Service that the ruling marks the first step toward justice and the restoration of his honor.

"The same people who turned their backs on me came to tell me: 'We heard the radio reports and want to congratulate you on your court victory and ask for forgiveness. Sorry we had bad thoughts about you,'” Nazarov says. “This was my first victory."

Nazarov waited nearly six years for that victory.

He recalls that in April 2004 he had only three months left to go to complete the postgraduate studies in Russia that would make him a veterinary surgeon. But his dream was derailed when he was arrested on the streets of Vladimir, located 200 kilometers east of Moscow, and charged with the possession of a large amount of drugs.

According to the verdict of the European Court of Human Rights, Nazarov was placed in custody on the basis that "he had been charged with a serious crime and that, if he remained at liberty, he could have absconded or interfered with the investigation or continued his unlawful activities."

Nazarov's pretrial detention went on for 23 months. When his trial in a Russian court finally began, prosecutors sought a nine-year prison sentence on charges of dealing drugs. He eventually was found guilty of lesser possession charges and sentenced to three years in prison, minus the nearly two years he had already served.

Nazarov says he endured threats, beatings, and terrible conditions in prison, but maintained his innocence throughout.

"I knew that I was innocent, even though the Russian investigators wanted [to prove] the contrary,” Nazarov says. “This allowed me to cope with all the terrible conditions, hunger, and a lack of water in prison and to survive those inhumane conditions.”

“It was very difficult for me, for a child of an educated family, a postgraduate student, to fall from such a high position,” he says. “Sometimes we had just one bed for three or four inmates and we slept on it in turns."

Long Search For Justice

Nazarov filed complaints with various Russian courts in an attempt to clear his name.

When none of his complaints were successful, he turned to the European Court of Human Rights, one of the most powerful checks on governmental abuse in Europe. As a member of the Council of Europe, which oversees the court, Russia is obliged to obey its rulings.

Tracey Turner-Tretz, a spokeswoman for the Strasbourg court, tells RFE/RL that Nazarov's complaint centered on the poor conditions he endured while in pretrial detention, the excessive length of his custody as he awaited trial, and Russian judicial authorities' failure to examine his appeals in a speedy fashion.

"The court found Russia breached Article 3 and 5 [of the European Convention on Human Rights] on all the counts invoked by Mr. Nazarov and awarded him 15,000 euros nonpecuniary damage and 3,500 euros for costs and expenses," Turner-Tretz explains.

Nazarov's lawyer, Mikhail Ovchinnikov, tells RFE/RL that he and his client are satisfied with the court's decision, made on November 26. Ovchinnikov expects Russia to pay the settlement after 90 days.

The Russian side “can appeal to the Grand Chamber, but such appeals are not usually upheld,” Ovchinnikov said. “We bear in mind that all the judges ruled in favor of Nazarov, so we are sure that this victory is final."

Not An Uncommon Story

After being freed from Russian prison in 2007, Nazarov returned to Tajikistan. Today he is married and has a young daughter.

But in search of justice and the restoration of his honor, Nazarov plans to take one more step -- returning to Russia to complete his studies and receive his degree.

Nazarov's case is not the first time a Tajik citizen has won a ruling against Russia at the European Court of Human Rights.

In 2008, Tajik citizen Doniyor Khudoyorov was awarded 50,000 euros ($75,000) after the court ruled in favor of his complaint stemming from his 1999 arrest in Russia on drug-related charges. Khudoyorov was freed in 2004 after Russian investigators failed to provide evidence to back the charges against him.

The experiences of Nazarov and Khudoyorov in Russia are not unique among Tajiks living in Russia.

Officially, about 300,000 to 400,000 Tajiks travel to Russia for seasonal work as migrants, although unofficial estimates place that number at closer to 1 million.

According to Russian data, about 3,500 Tajik citizens are currently imprisoned in Russia, most charged with drug possession or drug dealing.

Said Boev, a Tajik migrant in Moscow, acknowledges that some Tajiks living in Russia are involved in illegal activities. But he says they are the exception, not the norm, and that in most cases charges against them are groundless.

Boev claims that Russian police target Tajiks because they know they are afraid of the police and are not likely to contest their treatment. "Our citizens never complain to Russian Interior Ministry offices or the Russian authorities. They try to avoid it," Boev said.

And this, Boev says, makes it easy for the Russian police to prove migrants' "guilt."

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

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