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Russia Rejected Turkmen Activist's Asylum Request, Deported Him To Turkey, Group Says

Rozgeldy Choliev spent three weeks in a Moscow airport waiting for a response to his asylum request.
Rozgeldy Choliev spent three weeks in a Moscow airport waiting for a response to his asylum request.

The Memorial human rights organization says Russian authorities have rejected an asylum request filed by a Turkmen known for his public criticism of the regime in Ashgabat and deported him to Turkey.

Memorial said on March 24 that 27-year-old Rozgeldy Choliev, who spent three weeks in Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport after he arrived there from Istanbul waiting for a response, was deported to Turkey accompanied by Russian police officers the previous day.

According to the Moscow-based rights group, Choliev faces possible extradition from Turkey to Turkmenistan, where he most likely will be persecuted for his public criticism of the isolated Central Asian state's government.

After complications over the lack of a COVID test, Turkish authorities allowed Choliev to enter the country, Memorial says, adding that there had been no communication with him at this point.

"It is worth noting in this regard that during the three weeks of Choliev's stay at Sheremetyevo, none of the Russian government agencies, including those responsible for working with refugees, took any part in issues related to providing him with food, accommodation, or access to fresh air, " Memorial's statement said.

Choliev was detained by Russian immigration police on his arrival from Istanbul in Moscow on March 2, although he had a valid Russia visa in his passport. He remained at the airport's immigration section until being deported.

Russian authorities were reluctant to accept his request for asylum and did so only after Choliev issued a video statement on March 7 asking Russian President Vladimir Putin to intervene in the situation.

"You are the president of Russia and there is law in Russia that works, while in Turkmenistan it doesn't," Choliev said in his address to Putin.

Choliev studied at a university in the Russian North Caucasus region of Karachai-Cherkessia, where he was admitted in 2018. In 2020, he was expelled after he published articles on the Internet criticizing the Turkmen government.

His relatives in Turkmenistan, which is tightly controlled by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, also faced pressure at the time.

Government critics and human rights groups say Berdymukhammedov has suppressed dissent and made few changes in the secretive country since he came to power after the death of his authoritarian predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, in 2006.

According to Human Rights Watch, Berdymukhammedov, "his relatives, and their associates control all aspects of public life and the authorities encroach on private life."

Choliev, whose wife and child are in Karachai-Cherkessia, tried to come to Russia in November, but Russian airline Aeroflot did not allow him to board the plane.

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