Last Updated: Friday, 26 December 2014, 13:50 GMT

Tajikistan: Don't Return Asylum Seeker to Kyrgyzstan

Publisher Human Rights Watch
Publication Date 25 March 2010
Cite as Human Rights Watch, Tajikistan: Don't Return Asylum Seeker to Kyrgyzstan, 25 March 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4bb06ca8c.html [accessed 28 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

(New York) - Tajik authorities should not forcibly return a Kyrgyz human rights defender who is also a registered asylum seeker to Kyrgyzstan, Human Rights Watch said today. They should immediately grant the man, who is in custody, access to a lawyer and investigate allegations that his detention in Tajikistan was arbitrary and that he has been tortured.

Nematillo Botakozuev, who works with two human rights organizations, has been held incommunicado by the Tajik State Committee for National Security (GKNB), the country's central intelligence agency, since his arrest a month ago. Neither a lawyer hired by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) nor a lawyer hired by his family have been allowed to speak to him.

"Botakozuev urgently needs protection," said Andrea Berg, Central Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch. "Tajik authorities should act now to protect him from abuse in custody and ensure that he is not returned to Kyrgyzstan."

Botakozuev was last seen at liberty on the evening of February 26, 2010, when he left the UNHCR office. When he did not return home, his family alerted the UNHCR and international human rights organizations. Two weeks later, a source known to Human Rights Watch learned that Tajik police agents had stopped Botakozuev on the street and checked his documents. Because Botakozuev did not have identification with him, the police pulled him into their car and took him to the detention facility.

The source told Human Rights Watch that he was able to see Botakozuev informally for a few moments on March 14, two weeks after he disappeared.

"He was hardly able to breath," the source said. "He told me that his body is covered in bruises and that he had been tortured. When he got up from a bench he couldn't put any weight on one leg. He kept his hand on his heart. I am very concerned about his health because he has suffered two heart attacks in the past."

Botakozuev, who is in his early 40s, has been working with Truth - Justice, a human rights group based in Osh, in southern Kyrgyzstan, since 2004. He also works with the Paris-based organization Human Rights in Central Asia. Botakozuev's work focuses on the ethnic Uzbek community and people accused of religious extremism in southern Kyrgyzstan.

Under Tajikistan's laws, authorities must release him by March 26, a month after he was detained, or extend the detention period. The source is deeply concerned that Tajik authorities may instead try to return Botakozuev forcibly to Kyrgyzstan.

"Kyrgyz security agents are already in town and have questioned Nematillo," the person told Human Rights Watch.

Human Rights Watch spoke with an expert who has been following the case, who said it was likely that the Tajik authorities want to speed up a forced return because only the courts will be authorized to rule on extradition requests after a new Criminal Procedure Code comes into force in Tajikistan on April 1.Currently law enforcement agencies involved in a case have discretion over extradition requests. It is not known whether Kyrgyzstan has filed an extradition request for Botakozuev.

Botakozuev fled to Tajikistan in early 2010 with his wife, their three children, and his brother after remaining in hiding in Kyrgyzstan for more than a year. In Kyrgyzstan, he is on a wanted list for his alleged involvement in a demonstration in Nookat, in the south, in October 2008.

The protest was prompted by a decision by local authorities to prohibit a public celebration of Eid al-Fitr, a Muslim holiday commonly celebrated throughout Kyrgyzstan. The Kyrgyz security services claimed that the protest was organized by members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an international Islamic organization that is banned in several countries in the region.

At their trial in November 2008, 30 of 32 defendants charged in connection with the event testified that they had been tortured and ill-treated, but the judge neither urged the prosecutor's office to investigate nor dismissed the evidence allegedly obtained under torture. The defendants were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 9 to 20 years, some of which were reduced slightly on appeal.

"If Botakozuev is sent back he will face a serious risk of more torture or other ill- treatment," Berg said. "In Kyrgyzstan he would not have a fair trial."

In 2009, Kyrgyz authorities denied entry to or deported three human rights defenders who had worked to document the Nookat events or provide legal advice to the defendants.

Returning Botakozuev to Kyrgyzstan would violate the absolute prohibition on the return of persons to places where they risk torture, under article 3 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Tajikistan ratified that convention in 1995. It would also violate Tajikistan's international obligations as a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention not to return asylum seekers to the countries they left.

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