Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is extremely concerned about Khudoberdi Nurmatov, an Uzbek journalist also known as Ali Feruz, who was arrested as he left his Moscow home yesterday and is now threatened with extradition to Uzbekistan.
RSF urges the Russian authorities not to send Nurmatov back to his home country, where he could be tortured.
After assisting various human rights groups, Nurmatov had been working for more than a year for the Moscow-based independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, writing articles on Uzbek domestic policyand the appalling conditions in which Central Asian immigrants live in Moscow.
The Russian authorities accuse him of violating their immigration laws. The document they have given to his lawyers refers to article 18.8 of the administrative code, which provides for deportation.
Although Nurmatov does not have a valid passport, he has requested asylum, which is sufficient to allow him to remain in Russia. Under both Russian and international law, he should not be sent back to his country until his asylum request has been examined.
Nurmatov fled Uzbekistan in 2009 to escape growing pressure from the Uzbek intelligence services, which wanted to recruit him as an informer. His mother lives in Russia and has Russian nationality.
After spending most of yesterday in a police station, Nurmatov was hospitalized in the evening with a kidney ailment exacerbated by a flu virus. His lawyer, Maria Kurakina, said today that the hospital’s management had been pressured to discharge him as quickly as possible so that he could be taken before a court.
“Sending Khudoberdi Nurmatov back to Uzbekistan would be illegal and would put him in great danger,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.
“His journalistic activities and defence of human rights expose him to the worst in a country where torture is systematically used. We call on the Russian authorities not to deport this journalist and to quickly examine his asylum request.”
Uzbekistan is ranked 166th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index. The regime has a complete monopoly of news and information, and independent journalists who try to keep working are exposed to the worst reprisals. Many reports have documentedthe widespread use of torture in Uzbek prisons.
In a statement released yesterday, Novaya Gazeta expressed full support for Nurmatov and said he was the victim of a targeted arrest, not a routine police check.
It is not clear if Uzbekistan has requested his extradition, but the Russian and Uzbek governments are linked by security cooperation accords that are often invoked to the detriment of international humanitarian law.
Several Uzbek citizens who had been seeking asylum or had been granted refugee status have gone missing in Moscow in recent years only to reappear some time later in Uzbek jails.