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Expert Says Kazakhstan's Extradition Of Uzbek Refugees Violates Laws

Vitaly Ponomaryov, director of the Central Asian program of the Moscow-based Memorial human rights center
Vitaly Ponomaryov, director of the Central Asian program of the Moscow-based Memorial human rights center
ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- The human rights watchdog Memorial has said Kazakhstan's extradition of Uzbek asylum seekers to Uzbekistan last month violates international and national laws, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports.

Vitaly Ponomaryov, of Memorial's Central Asian Program, told RFE/RL on July 8 that the extradition of 28 Uzbek asylum seekers on June 9 is unprecedented and the largest such incident ever among former Soviet republics.

He said Kazakhstan has violated not only the United Nations convention against torture, but also its own national legislation.

Ponomaryov said that in December Kazakhstan adopted amendments to its code of practice that prohibit the extradition of individuals if they face a serious threat of torture.

He added that Kazakhstan's arguments that the detained men were members of a terrorist organization are false.

Ponomaryov said that in six cases that he studied, those charges had been fabricated and were baseless. He added that rights activists' chances of freeing the extradited Uzbeks in Uzbekistan are very limited.

Ponomaryov said the Uzbek men's cases were discussed at the July 7 briefing of NGOs in Belgrade during the annual session of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Parliamentary Assembly.

He added that in post-Soviet countries it is important to defend human rights not only in each particular case, but to resolve the problem at the political level.

Ponomaryov said countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States often follow the 1992 Minsk Convention on questions regarding extradition. That document doesn't mention the status of the asylum seeker or the risk of torture as a reason for rejecting extradition.

The Uzbeks spent one year in an Almaty detention center after the Kazakh Migration Service refused to provide them with refugee status. The Almaty appeals court upheld that decision.

Domestic and international human rights organizations condemned the extradition and said the men face jail and torture upon their return to Uzbekistan, where they are wanted for alleged involvement in religious extremism.

The wives of the extradited men and rights groups said the men were active Muslim worshippers but had no connections to Islamist groups.