Shock as Kazakstan Hands Refugees Over to Uzbeks

Shock as Kazakstan Hands Refugees Over to Uzbeks

Human rights groups have expressed outrage at Kazakstan’s decision to send 28 asylum-seekers back to Uzbekistan despite concerns that they would be liable to face mistreatment and torture there.

The 28 were sent back on June 9 on the basis of an extradition request from Uzbekistan, after being held at two detention centres in Almaty for a year.

The extradition has not been announced officially, but a prosecution service officer confirmed it by phone to NBCentralAsia.

"It’s all legal," the officer said. "The appeals court upheld the refusal of refugee status for them, so the prosecutor general’s decision of September 2010 requiring their extradition to Uzbekistan entered into effect."

Umida Azimova, the wife of one of the asylum-seekers, told NBCentralAsia that she and others found out when they visited a detention centre and were told their husbands were no longer there.

Forcible extradition took place even though Kazakstan, as signatory to the international conventions on refugees and human rights, has an obligation not to return people to countries where they are at risk of serious mistreatment. As the United Nations Committee Against Torture has noted, the use of torture is systematic in Uzbekistan.

The New York-based watchdog group Human Rights Watch issued a statement denouncing the decision, Kazakstan had displayed “utter disregard for its binding international commitments.”

"These men are at grave risk of torture in Uzbekistan and no amount of diplomatic assurances nor reliance on bilateral arrangements can alleviate Kazakhstan of its responsibility under international law," Rachel Denber, acting director of the group’s europe and Central Asia division, said.

The refugees were among 29 arrested by Kazak police in June 2010. All but one, Nigmatullo Nabiev – who was later released – had their asylum applications turned down by a new national agency whose decisions take precedence over the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which had earlier recognised 17 of them as refugees. Its denial of refugee status was upheld on appeal

The 28 denied the charges levelled against them by the Uzbek authorities – involvement in terrorism, subversive activity and banned Islamic groups. They said they were being pursued because of their religious views. (See Uzbek Refugees Face Extradition From Kazakhstan.)

In the last eight months, the Kazak authorities have extradited four other asylum-seekers to Uzbekistan. One of them, Umarali Abdurahmonov – handed over Uzbekistan even though he is a citizen of Tajikistan – was subsequently sentenced to ten years in prison. (See also Cold Welcome for Asylum-Seekers in Kazakstan.)

This article was produced as part of IWPR's News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.

Uzbekistan, Kazakstan
Support our journalists