Novaya Gazeta Journalist Threatened With Expulsion To Uzbekistan

In the morning of March 17 Moscow police detained uzbek journalist Khudoberdi Nurmatov. He has been working as a correspondent with the Novaya Gazeta, and is now threatened with extradition to Uzbekistan, where he could be tortured.

In journalism, Nurmatov is also known as pseudonym Ali Feruz.  The chief of the Novaya Gazeta investigatory department, Olga Bobrova, writes, “Khudoberdi is Ali’s name by passport but it’s the name which makes one’s life in Moscow difficult. Therefore, he has been working under pseudonym in journalism”.

Khudoberdi Nurmatov (born 1987)  is a citizen of Uzbekistan born in Russia.  His mother is a citizen of Russia. She still lives in the town of Gorno-Altaysk where Khudoberdi finished school. Then he decided to go back to his fatherland. That decision was fateful as there Khudoberdi was approached by President Karimov’ security services. They proposed Khudoberdi to act as their agent. The young person had to flee Uzbekistan. It was eight years ago. Khudoberdi came to Russia where he started to work with human rights organizations, including Amnesty International  and Civic Assistance committee, the first non-profit set in Russia even before the establishment of the Migration Service. It is run by Svetlana Gannushkina, one of the most revered human rights defenders of Russia, who was of the contenders for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010.

Initially police detained Khudoberdi under part 3 of Article 18.8 of Russia’s Administrative Code which relates to such offences committed by a foreign national as “violation of timing permitted to stay in the country and breach of regulation to enter the country”. Fergananews agency reports Nurmatov’s lawyer, Maria Kurakina, as stating, “There has been no extradition request from Uzbekistan. There have been no charges against him on alleged involvement into extremist activities or justification of terrorism. His staying in Russia has been absolutely legitimate as he applied for asylum and the decision is still pending”. Meanwhile, on March 17, Dmitry Peskov, the press person of Vladimir Putin, was reported by the Vedomosti newspaper as claiming that “the Kremlin is unaware of any asylum application submitted by Nurmatov”. These claims were refuted by the Novaya Gazeta which published the correspondence between the President’s Administration and Dmitry Muratov, the editor-in-chief of the media outlet in reference to Nurmatov’s asylum request.

Dmitry Piskunov, a lawyer with Committee to Prevent Torture and a member of the Moscow public commission to oversee places of detention, visited Nurmatov in the police station immediately after the arrest. He stated in conversation with me via Skype, “Police made a report on alleged violation of migration law committed by Nurmatov in which they referred to 16.02.1987, the day when he was born, as the date of his arrival in Russia on which he “had failed to register himself within seven days after the arrival as a foreigner who moves into a country. I don’t know what exactly the police meant by it. Being a member of the overseeing commission,  I was focused on Nurmatov’s rights in the police custody. He was detained at 11 am on March 16 in Bolshaya Bronnaya street in Moscow and put into a cell in two hours. His lawyers, Maria Kurakina and Mikhail Kushpel, were not given access to him for the next 3 hours, since 4 pm until 7 pm in violation of Article 48 of the Russian Constitution as well as Article 25 of the Russian Administrative Code”.

Only after Nurmatov had felt worse because of his health condition, his lawyers were allowed to meet the journalist. The lawyers insisted on an ambulance to be called and Nurmatov was finally hospitalised with kidney ailment worsened by the flue virus.

Then the court ruled his release on house arrest, according to the NG press person Nadezhda Prusenkova. However, as of now, Nurmatov has been taken to a safe location as his friends fear the risk of abduction by Uzbek security services.

The concerns are related to a number of publications claiming that Nurmatov was detained on suspicions of “being a recruiter to Islamic terrorist groups”. It resulted in an attempt to launch new wave of attacks at the Novaya Gazeta as such. There have appeared articles entitled “Novaya Gazeta was a cover to an Islamic terrorist”. At that, Novaya Gazeta denies such allegations stating firmly that they have full trust in their colleague who, first and foremost, has been already checked by Russian law-enforcement for any relationship with Islamists which was proven non-existent. Besides, a number of Russian media outlets notorious for their defamation against independent journalists, including the NTV channel, have also launched an attack at Nurmatov publishing articles on his sexual orientation and alleged criminal case being opened in Uzbekistan. Nurmatov is an open activist of the LGBT movement, according to head of the NG investigatory department Olga Bobrova who commented on the situation on phone.  Actually, this is the fact which itself destroys any theories of Nurmatov being part of Islamist movement.

Olga Bobrova told that, in the view of Nurmatov’s colleagues, Khudoberdi drew negative attention from the new government in Tashkent after his article “Slaves for the day at polling stations” published in December 2016 after the elections of the new president of Uzbekistan. She also told that there is no ground to take any assertions of Khudoberdi’ involvement into any extremist movement also because it was the FSB of Russia personnel who were interrogating him in the police station after detention. “They could have never let him go to hospital on his own, absolutely unguarded, if they had any grain of evidence of our friend’s illegal activities”, Olga Bobrova stated. She also told of positive results of Nurmatov’s journalist investigations. Among those she mentioned release of a few Kyrgyz women in slavery in Moscow shops by owners of the Kyrgyz background and improvements in the market of street cleaners of Moscow which is occupied by migrants from Central Asian states.

In Russia, Khudoberdi got his Uzbekistan-issued passport stolen in 2012. He applied for a new one via the embassy of his country. However, when the embassy made clear that he would have to return to Uzbekistan, Khudoberdi decided to ask Russia for protection  as he was threatened with arrest in his home country. Svetlana Gannushkina commented on the situation via mail stating, “Russia has denied Khudoberdi Nurmatov’ asylum request although he belongs to one of the most vulnerable groups in his home country and can’t be deported there”.

Khudoberdi Nurmatov has been covering topics related to immigrants from the Central Asia states working in Moscow in appalling conditions.

Amnesty International demands that Nurmatov be granted asylum in Russia. Reporters without Borders have expressed their concern over Nurmatov’s possible expulsion to Uzbekistan.

Union of Journalists in Finland shares these concerns and joins the supporters of Khudoberdi Nurmatov, says the Union’s international ombudsman Juha Rekola.

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Uzbekistan is ranked 166th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index. The regime has a complete monopoly of news and information, and independent journalists who try to keep working are exposed to the worst reprisals. Many reports have documented the widespread use of torture in Uzbek prisons. (RSF)

 

By Oxana Chelysheva, Journalistiliitto

Photo courtesy of Novaya Gazeta