RSF urges Russia not to send Uzbek journalist back to Uzbekistan

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Russia authorities not to expel Khudoberdi Nurmatov, an Uzbek journalist seeking asylum in Russia. A Moscow court has ordered him sent back to Uzbekistan, which is ranked 169th out of 180 countries in the RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

Arrested on 1 August, Nurmatov was taken later the same day before a judge, who issued the expulsion order at around 11 pm. The speed was suspicious, especially as the order was issued after the legal closing time for the courts. Nurmatov was placed in a detention centre for foreign nationals.

Also known by the pen-name of Ali Feruz, Nurmatov tried to take his own life at the end of the hearing, his lawyer said.

“Ali Feruz must not be sent back to Uzbekistan,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “He would be in great danger if expelled to that country, which criminalizes independent journalism and systematically uses torture. We urge the Russian authorities to overturn this decision on appeal and to release this journalist without delay.”

Stripped of his passport several years ago, Nurmatov was first arrested in March for “residing in an irregular manner” in Russia, although his asylum application sufficed to give a legal basis to his presence in the country.

Nurmatov fled Uzbekistan in 2009 to escape growing pressure from the Uzbek intelligence services. His mother lives in Russia and has Russian nationality. His asylum application was finally rejected in May but he had filed an appeal against this decision.

After helping 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 policy and the appalling conditions in which Central Asian immigrants live in Moscow.

In Uzbekistan, the regime has a complete monopoly of news and information, and independent journalists who try to keep working are exposed to terrible reprisals. Many reports have documented the widespread use of torture in Uzbek prisons.

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.