Hundreds of asylum-seekers, refugees and migrant workers have been deported and even abducted in forced returns from Russia to Uzbekistan, where they have been subjected to torture, said Amnesty International in a briefing released today.
The briefing, Fast-track to Torture: Abductions and Forcible Returns from Russia to Uzbekistan, examines how the Russian authorities have cooperated with Uzbekistan in hundreds of deportation cases despite clear risks that individuals could be tortured upon return. In the rare instances that Russia has denied extradition requests, Uzbekistani security forces have been granted free reign to abduct wanted nationals from Russian soil.
“The Russian authorities are not simply turning a blind eye to torture and injustice in Uzbekistan, they are lending a helping hand,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe and Central Asia.
“Russia must put an end to these abductions and deportations which violate its human rights obligations, and ensure that no one at risk of torture is returned to Uzbekistan. Every pressure must be put on Uzbekistan to stop the use of torture and other ill-treatment and ensure that all trials are conducted fairly and fully meet international standards.”
Torture and repression in the name of security
The Uzbekistani authorities have routinely invoked the “fight against terrorism”, and combating “anti-state” activity to justify abusive prosecutions of political opponents, as well as critics and alleged members or sympathizers of outlawed Islamist groups. All are at grave risk of being tortured once in the hands of the Uzbekistani criminal justice system.
In 2013, Russian authorities denied an Uzbekistani extradition request for Mirsobir Khamidkariev, an Uzbekistani film producer and businessman. He was facing charges of setting up an illegal Islamist group after being overheard at an informal gathering expressing his support for women wearing headscarves.
However, in June 2014, Mirsobir was abducted and held incommunicado in Moscow before being handed over by officers of the Russian Federal Security Service to Uzbekistani security agents. He was then forcibly returned.
Uzbekistani security forces beat a “confession” out of Mirsobir, who had seven of his teeth knocked out and suffered two broken ribs before being sent to a prison camp where he spent several weeks in punishment cells.
While there he was tied to a bar attached to the wall of the interrogation room with his head facing down and beaten repeatedly. He was later convicted on extremism offences on the basis of a forced “confession” and sentenced to eight years in jail. He is set to be released in 2022.
In many other cases, the victims have faced unfair trials which have led to long prison sentences served in cruel, inhuman and degrading conditions.
The European Court of Human Rights issued at least 17 judgements in the three years leading up to March 2016, all denouncing the forcible transfer of individuals to Uzbekistan.
It is also common for the Uzbekistani authorities to harass and threaten family members to incriminate relatives or reveal a “suspect’s” whereabouts.
In January 2016, Artur Avakian was detained for four weeks and tortured until he finally incriminated his older brother, Aramais Avakian, a fish farmer, for “terrorist” acts. Police officers tied up Artur’s hands and legs, clamped electrodes to his earlobes and electrocuted him until his tongue stuck to his gums.
Aramais’s family and friends believe he was prosecuted because local authorities were interested in taking over his successful fish farm. He was brought into court on a stretcher after nearly five months in detention and sentenced to seven years in prison based on fabricated charges of “terrorism”. Aramais told the Dzhizakh Regional Criminal Court that he had been tortured in the attempt to force him into “confessing” to being an Islamic State sympathizer.
Relatives of those detained often fear turning to lawyers or human rights organizations for help as security forces regularly threaten to make conditions worse for their loved ones if they do so.
“The Uzbekistani authorities will go to any length to ensure the return of their nationals to face “justice” and the Russian authorities have been only too willing to oblige them,” said John Dalhuisen.
“Both the Uzbek and Russian authorities must put an immediate stop to torture and abductions and bring all perpetrators to justice for these abhorrent human rights violations.”
In April 2015, Amnesty International launched the report Secrets and Lies: Forced Confessions Under Torture in Uzbekistan as part of its Stop Torture campaign. The report revealed how pervasive torture and other ill-treatment played a central role in the country’s justice system and the government’s clampdown on any group perceived as a threat to national security: