Kyrgyzstan Extradites Journalist To Uzbekistan Despite Concerns Over Persecution

Kyrgyzstan has extradited Uzbek journalist Bobomurod Abdullaev to neighboring Uzbekistan, despite concern from the United States and rights groups that he could be tortured and persecuted.

Kyrgyzstan's national security committee said in a statement on August 22 that Abdullaev was extradited to Uzbekistan "in accordance with international law."

It said that the Uzbek government provided Kyrgyzstan with assurances that Abdullaev would not be ill-treated or tortured.

Upon arrival in Uzbekistan's capital, Tashkent, Abdullaev was released after visiting the Security Committee, his lawyer told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service.

Sergei Mayorov said his client was released to his sister’s house but will be barred from traveling inside or outside Uzbekistan pending a full investigation and further questioning.

Uzbekistan has not specified the exact nature of the charges against the 47-year-old independent journalist.

Media reports in Uzbekistan suggest Abdullaev is being sought in connection with social-media posts critical of Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev that were written under the pen name Qora Mergan (Black Shooter).

Abdullaev has denied that he has any connection to the writings.

Abdullaev's treatment has previously been the focus of rights groups after he and three other men were arrested in 2017 in Tashkent. They were charged with calling for a change to Uzbekistan's constitutional order by force.

Those charges stemmed from a series of articles under the byline Usman Haqnazarov, which was apparently used by more than one person.

Abdullaev also denied guilt then, saying he was doing his job as a journalist.

In May 2018, Abdullaev was convicted on charges of producing "anti-government propaganda." But he was cleared of the more serious charge of conspiracy against the state -- and was then released.

Kyrgyz authorities detained Abdullaev in Bishkek on August 9 and held him in a detention center pending a decision on Uzbekistan's extradition request.

Abdullaev studied for four months at Bishkek's American University of Central Asia and has been stuck in Kyrgyzstan due to coronavirus travel restrictions. Prior to that, the journalist had lived in Germany for several months at the invitation of the media rights group Reporters Without Borders.

Seven foreign-based human rights groups, including Reporters Without Borders, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch, had appealed to the Kyrgyz authorities to release Abdullayev out of concern he could face ill-treatment and persecution in Uzbekistan.

The U.S. State Department also called on Kyrgyzstan to release the journalist and let him depart to a country of his choice.