MOSCOW -- For at least the third time in recent months, the European Court of Human Rights has stepped in to prevent a Moscow court from ordering the deportation of an Uzbek citizen back to the authoritarian Central Asian country.
Russian human rights activist Svetlana Gannushkina wrote on Facebook on September 14 that the European court had barred Moscow from deporting Uzbek citizen Ravshan Rakhimov pending the resolution of his asylum application. In August, the court issued a similar order in the case of Novaya Gazeta journalist Ali Feruz (Feruz is the pen name used by Hudoberdi Nurmatov), after Russian and international journalists argued he could face torture or death if handed over to Uzbekistan.
Rakhimov's case has been a rollercoaster from the start. The 37-year-old moved to Moscow with his wife in 2007. His two children, now 8 and 1, were both born in the Russian capital. He worked in construction and kept his papers in order. He never had any trouble with the Russian authorities.
But in 2014, his mother told him that his brother and two other men from his home village with whom he'd worked in Moscow had been detained by the Uzbek security forces. Rakhimov says the men were held for 15 days, during which they were beaten and given electric shocks, before they were able to bribe their way out of custody. Rakhimov decided to stop travelling back to Uzbekistan and applied for asylum in Russia.
In September 2015, Russia's Federal Migration Service rejected Rakhimov's application, saying that he was ineligible because there was no arrest warrant for him in Uzbekistan.
Charged Or Not?
The matter rested there until February 2017, when Rakhimov was stopped in one of the routine document checks that are a regular feature of migrant-worker life in Moscow. During that check, police discovered that Uzbekistan had issued a warrant for Rakhimov in December 2014. He was jailed pending possible extradition.
According to the Uzbek authorities, Rakhimov advocated the formation of an Islamist state and called for the overthrow of the existing government of Uzbekistan. He allegedly attended lectures and consumed media containing extremist content. He also supposedly recruited others and organized meetings at which extremist materials were distributed.
He did all this, the Uzbek government claimed, not in Central Asia, but in Moscow. However, in Rakhimov's case file there is a document from the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) to the prosecutor's office dated April 2017 and saying the FSB had no evidence that Rakhimov had been involved in any such activities. In view of the fact that he is not under any investigation in Russia, the FSB wrote, "there are no circumstances hindering the transfer of this individual to the requesting country and there is no threat to the security of the Russian Federation."
In March, Rakhimov filed a second application for asylum, citing the new information about his arrest warrant. The Russian authorities rebuffed that application, arguing that his case had already been considered and rejected.
Upon a court appeal, the migration authorities' rejection was overturned and the court sent a written admonishment to the officials instructing them to follow the law. Nonetheless, on July 24, Deputy Prosecutor-General Saak Karapetyan ordered Rakhimov's extradition.
The case ended up in the Moscow City Court where, on September 7, the court overturned Karapetyan's order.
"In numerous reports and other documents by international agencies...it has been stated that the use of torture and mistreatment of prisoners in custody is a widespread and ongoing problem [in Uzbekistan]," the court's decision read. It added that there had been no information that the situation there had changed since longtime autocrat Islam Karimov died in 2016.
"How pleasant it is to hear the words 'to be released from custody in the courtroom,'" his lawyer, Roza Magomedova, wrote on Facebook that day. But Rakhimov's problems were far from over.
He was taken into a waiting room to collect his belongings when several people in plainclothes detained him and took him away. When Magomedova inquired after him, police told her Rakhimov had left the building "with friends," which she knew was not true. She immediately went to a police station and filed a missing-persons report.
The following day, she got a phone call from a man who said he had shared a cell with Rakhimov, who had asked him to call her when he was released. Rakhimov was being held at the same police station in the Yaroslav district where he'd originally been arrested in February.
When Magomedova arrived, she found her client with a broken foot. "As soon as I arrived, I asked why I had been detained," Rakhimov said. "They immediately started beating me." Rakhimov didn't realize his foot was broken until later when it began to swell. Officially, police said he broke the foot while attempted to escape.
Rakhimov was hustled straight to the Babushkin district court, where the police report said he had been detained during a document check and it was discovered he had no passport or migrant card. His documents, in fact, were still at the remand facility where he'd been held since February. The judge seemed unconvinced that Rakhimov had not been kidnapped straight from the city court, but was unwilling to let him go free. Instead, she never called the case and Rakhimov and Magomedova sat in the courtroom until 10 p.m.
On September 9, a Saturday, Magomedova went to the Yaroslav district police station but was not allowed to see her client. He was being taken back to court, she was told, and she could talk to him there. At the court, however, she was told they don't hear such cases on weekends. When she called back to the police station, she was told Rakhimov had been released because he couldn't be held without charge for more than 48 hours.
But Rakhimov didn't appear at home. Magomedova filed a second missing-persons complaint.
The next day was a case study in deja vu. A man telephoned and said he'd been in a cell with Rakhimov overnight. Rakhimov was being held at a police station in the capital's Losinoostrov district, again being held on charges of violating migration laws. He'd been released the previous day and then immediately stopped in the next precinct for a document check.
When Magomedova reached Rakhimov, she found him with black eyes and bruises on his neck. "I just asked them why they were detaining me," he told her.
According to the arrest report, Rakhimov had resisted arrest and needed to be handcuffed.
Europe Enters The Fray
But this time, Magomedova was accompanied by two members of the Moscow Public Oversight Commission, which monitors human rights. They immediately called an ambulance, and the medics ordered that he be taken to a hospital for head X-rays and a neurological examination. This was done and a medical report was issued, which police confiscated, saying they would add it to Rakhimov's case file. It disappeared.
Rakhimov was back in front of a judge on September 11. Despite the Moscow City Court's ruling on September 7 establishing Rakhimov as a refugee, Judge Yelena Mamayeva ruled against Rakhimov. She ordered him fined 5,000 rubles ($87) and deported to Uzbekistan. She said that since he had been detained on September 9, he'd had plenty of time to recover his documents after the Moscow City Court ruling on September 7. The fact that he'd been in police custody during that time was not taken into consideration.
The court ordered Rakhimov sent to a detention facility for people awaiting deportation.
That's when the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) stepped in, staying the Moscow court's deportation order pending a proper consideration of Rakhimov's asylum application.
But the story doesn't end there. On September 14, rights activist Gannushkina posted on Facebook that Magomedova had visited Rakhimov in the detention center. He told her he'd been visited by "officials of the Uzbek Embassy," who had pressured him to sign a document renouncing his right to an attorney and his right to appeal to the ECHR. He didn't sign, Magomedova said.
She advised her client not to speak to anyone except her.
Written by Robert Coalson on the basis of reporting by RFE/RL's Russian Service correspondent Sergei Khazov-Cassia