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Uzbeks Seeking Russian Refuge Vanish After Moscow Release

Four Uzbeks who sought refugee status in Russia have gone missing after their release in Moscow, prompting concerns that they have been secretly repatriated despite a European court ruling barring their extradition.

The men were released from the Sakharovo Deportation Center last week after spending more than 2 1/2 years in Russian custody.

Hakim Jalolboev, Olim Jalolboev, Avazbek Nizomov, and Rahmatulla Muhammadhujaev were arrested in late 2012 based on a request by Uzbek authorities, who said the four were suspected of religious extremism.

The men reject the charges and insist that they have been politically persecuted in Uzbekistan.

Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Center and human-rights group Pomoshch (Help) were involved in an effort to show that the Uzbek charges were unproven, leading to their release on May 29.

But the men disappeared two days after their release, and human rights activists in Russia are concerned that they might have been abducted and secretly deported to Uzbekistan.

Pomoshch head Bahrom Hamroev told RFE/RL that the men failed to turn up for a scheduled meeting with him on June 1 to discuss further steps to obtain refugee status.

"Their telephones are switched off. We hope that maybe after spending more than 2 1/2 years in detention, they were scared and decided to move to either another city or another country. I know for sure that they did not plan to go back to Uzbekistan," Hamroev said.

Hamroev personally filed a missing-persons report with Moscow police in an effort to find them.

Hamroev said that in May 2014 the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled that the four men could not be extradited to Uzbekistan.

They do not have official refugee status in Russia and it might therefore be easy for Federal Migration Service officers to deport them back to Uzbekistan, he added.

He said the four could face long prison terms in their native Uzbekistan, which has long been accused of the systemic torture and abuse of detainees.

He also said that that "Uzbek National Security Service officers have visited the chaps' relatives [in Uzbekistan] on a regular basis," Hamroev said, "pressuring them to persuade the boys to come back to Uzbekistan."

Uzbek authorities have been accused of masking a clampdown on dissent by labeling activists as Islamic "extremists."

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

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