Moscow court suspends prior decision to deport Uzbek journalist back to Uzbekistan where he risks incarceration and torture
It’s 10 o’clock in the morning, protesters are standing in front of a district court in Moscow demonstrating in support of an openly homosexual Uzbek journalist working for a Russian investigative newspaper who is awaiting his deportation to Uzbekistan. Last week, people gathered not only in Moscow to protest, but also in St Petersburg, Kiev, Washington, and Berlin.
Today is an important day for all of them. Inside the Moscow Basmanny Court, Khodoberdi Nurmatov, better known as Ali Feruz, his mother, friends, colleagues and human rights activists are waiting anxiously and impatiently for the appeal of his case to start.
Soon afterwards, the words of the judge Olga Pankova are read. The Moscow city court suspends the deportation of Nurmatov to Uzbekistan. After the second hearing of the appeal, the court—at the request of Nurmatov’s lawyer Philip Shishov—attached several decisions on the refusal to grant the journalist asylum in Russia. Shishov also used a translation of a decision of the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) and a letter from Novaya Gazeta stating that Nurmatov is a valuable employee. Nurmatov’s mother, Zoya Nurmatova, was also interrogated by the judge. Only then, the judge decided that Nurmatov would not be deported to Uzbekistan where he would be at risk of being arrested and tortured.
Earlier this week on 4 August, the ECHR issued a preliminary injunction ordering Russia not to deport the journalist until the court reviews his case. It was mainly due to the ECHR´s complaint that judge Pankova decided to suspend the expulsion. However, the Moscow court ruled that Nurmatov would remain in the detention centre until the final decision of the ECHR.
St Petersburg shows solidarity
On 7 August a dozen activists stood on Nevsky Prospekt with various banners in order to show their solidarity with Nurmatov and inform both Russian citizens and tourists strolling down the streets about the case.
The activists had to stand at a minimum distance of 50 metres from one another so as not to violate the law on public gatherings.
“I am here because what happened to him can happen to many other people,” says Kate, one of the participants, who says she was approached by more than ten people in less than one hour. According to her, the majority were not familiar with the case but responded in a positive way.
Next to her is Misha, a 14 year old student, who asks to have his face marked with the text ‘Free Ali’. “My parents don’t know I am here, but I read about Ali on the Internet and I decided to join the demonstration,” he says. He admits of being afraid of the police nearby, but states that the risk is worth being taken.
Who is Ali Feruz?
Born in the city of Kokand, Uzbekistan, Nurmatov is an Uzbek citizen currently working for the Russian investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta, where he writes predominantly on social issues involving ethnic minorities in Russia, workers from Central Asia, and the LGBT community.
Nurmatov graduated from secondary school in the Altai Republic in Russia and moved back to Uzbekistan in 2004 where he acquired Uzbek citizenship. In 2006, Nurmatov moved to Kazan where he finished his studies in the Arabic Language at the Russian Islamic University. Two years later he married Dilafruz Shamshiddinova, a Kyrgyz citizen, with whom he has two children, and then later moves back to Uzbekistan. In 2013 Nurmatov came out as a homesexual and decided to break up with his wife.
His troubles began in 2008, when according to the editorial team of Novaya Gazeta, he was detained by the National Security Service of Uzbekistan (SNB). During the interrogation, the security service demand that he provides information about the political views of some of his acquaintances who allegedly held and practiced forms of Islam that the authorities in Uzbekistan deem as “extremist”. After several days of torture and threats, Nurmatov finally accepted the requests of the SNB and was set free.
In November 2008, Nurmatov applied for refugee status at the UNHCR office in Kyrgyzstan, but fearing that he would be abducted, he relocated to Kazakhstan in March 2009 where he once again applied for refugee status.
In 2011, Kazakhstan initiated a wave of extraditions of Uzbek citizens, which prompts Nurmatov to move to Russia, where his mother and siblings, all Russian nationals, reside.
A year later, his passport and paperwork was reportedly lost. Although the loss was reported to the police, his documents were never recovered and Nurmatov refused to apply for a new passport at the embassy of Uzbekistan in Moscow fearing arrest. In the meantime, the Uzbek security forces repeatedly visited Nurmatov’s relatives to enquire about his whereabouts.
At the end of 2015, Nurmatov applied for refugee status at the Federal Migration Service of Russia in Moscow but his application was rejected in March 2016. He subsequently applied for temporary shelter but, once again, his application was rejected.
This year, Novaya Gazeta appealed to the Head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia and to President Putin and requested assistance, but their request was rejected on 3 August, when Kremlin’s Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov stated that “a series of factors do not allow the Russian authorities to turn a blind eye to the violations committed by Ali Feruz (Khuderbi Nurmatov).”
On 1 August, a Russian court ordered the deportation of Nurmatov for having violated migration rules and the journalist was transferred to the detention centre for migrants.
Following the order of deportation, many organisations, such as the Russian LGBT Network, mobilised and demanded for the Russian government to take action.
As a member of the UN Convention against Torture and the European Convention of Human Rights, Russia is expected to protect Uzbek citizens who face the risk of human rights violations if deported to their country.
As a homosexual, Nurmatov risks incarceration of up to three years in Uzbekistan where homosexuality is illegal.
According to his lawyer, Philip Shishov, Nurmatov will remain in the detention centre until his refugee status is granted, a procedure that might take several years.