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'No One Is Safe': Journalist Says Suicide Better Than Returning To Torture In Uzbekistan

Journalist Ali Feruz: 'I'd Rather Die' Than Return To Uzbekistan
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RFE/RL's Russian Service spoke to Feruz in Gottingen, Germany, about his ordeal.

Having escaped being sent back to the country he fled a decade ago, journalist Hudoberdi Nurmatov says from the safety of Germany that he would have taken his own life rather than face deportation to Uzbekistan.

Nurmatov, better known by his pen name, Ali Feruz, spoke to RFE/RL's Russian Service on February 22 in Goettingen. He arrived in Germany on February 15 from Russia, where he had been denied asylum and spent the last six months in an immigration center awaiting a decision on his fate.

He discussed what was going through his mind as he considered the prospect of being deported to Uzbekistan, which he fled in 2008 after being tortured in detention.

"I was determined not to return to Uzbekistan alive. I'd rather be in pain for half an hour and die [by suicide] than suffer endlessly as they torture you," Nurmatov told RFE/RL.

"One does not die from torture fast there," Nurmatov says. "They torture and cause pain to a certain point to which you can take it, then they step back, let you recover a little, and begin torturing again. It can go on like that forever."

Nurmatov describes medieval methods of torture. "They pull nails, poke needles into your fingers, they beat you and pour boiling water on you," recounts Nurmatov, whose case to avoid deportation back to Uzbekistan sparked an international outcry.

He says that as he languished in an immigration center in a Moscow suburb, the idea of committing suicide remained in the back of his mind. "For half a year, I constantly kept thinking that something bad was about to happen to me. I was constantly prepared that I would probably have to make the decision at some point to end my life."

Random Justice

His ordeal with Russia's court system gave Nurmatov, a reporter with the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, a new perspective on how justice operates in Russia.

"I used to think that bad things only happen to people who really anger the authorities. But now I understand that no one is safe," he explains.

"I realize now that no one -- absolutely no one -- is insured against such injustice. The rules of the game that used to exist in Russian politics have changed and are changing," Nurmatov says. "What I see is that one can face two identical, very comparable [court] cases, but their outcome can be completely different."

Nurmatov says he hopes to work for Novaya Gazeta as their correspondent in Germany, and says he considers the Russian newspaper his "family."

Nurmatov has covered such issues as hate crimes, migrant workers' rights, and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, raising the ire of authorities in Russia. Many of his supporters suspect his work was the reason behind his detention.

'Serious Risk' Of Torture

Nurmatov had been held in an immigration detention center outside Moscow since August 2017, a year after Russia's Federal Migration Service denied his request for asylum.

The Basmanny district court ruled on August 1, 2017, that Nurmatov had violated Russia's migration rules and sanctioned his deportation.

"Russia has an obligation to protect Nurmatov, not send him directly into harm's way," Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said at the time. "Uzbekistan has a long and well-established record of torture, and there is little doubt that Nurmatov faces a serious risk if he's forcibly returned there."

Amid international calls for his release, Nurmatov's case was reviewed over and over again by Russian district courts until a February 9 ruling gave him the green light to leave for a third country, bringing his ordeal to an end.

Nurmatov has said he fled Uzbekistan in 2008 after being detained and tortured by the Uzbek security services.

According to Human Rights Watch, Nurmatov was severely beaten "in an attempt to coerce him to become an informant on acquaintances and friends who were religious Muslims."

In 2009, he traveled from Kyrgyzstan to Kazakhstan, where he contacted the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, about refugee status. He left Kazakhstan in 2011 after Kazakh authorities forcibly returned to Uzbekistan at least 28 religious Muslims who had fled religious persecution in Uzbekistan. In 2011 he moved to Russia, where his mother and two siblings, all Russian citizens, live.