June 27, 2006

We write to express profound concern about the recent detention of Gabdurafih Temirbaev, an Uzbek national recognized as a refugee by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) who, according to unconfirmed reports, is in the custody of the Committee for National Security (KNB) in Almaty.

Temirbaev was seized from the home of an acquaintance at 3:45 a.m. on June 24. His housemates reported that three men —one wearing a police uniform and two other in plainclothes—forcibly entered the house. The men presented no identification documents; one of them verbally identified himself as an uchastkoviy (neighborhood police officer). Temirbaev showed the men his refugee certificate issued by the UNHCR on June 16, 2006, but the three detained him, claiming that there had been a robbery nearby and that they were checking up on people in the neighborhood. The men refused to tell Temirbaev’s housemates where they were taking him.

The detention appears to have been done under false pretenses. Temirbaev’s housemates later learned that none of the neighbors had heard of a robbery in the neighborhood. Several hours after the incident a representative of the international community visited the neighborhood uchastkoviy, the Medau District Department of National Security and the Almaty Department of Interior Affairs. None acknowledged its agents’ involvement in Temirbaev’s detention. According to unconfirmed reports, Temirbaev is being held at the Almaty KNB.

Also, Human Rights Watch learned that on the evening of June 26, a relative of Temirbaev received a phone call from a man claiming to be a KNB agent. The caller told the relative to find another relative, a Kazakh national who has been helping the refugees, and to come with him in the morning to the KNB. The caller made vague threats about consequences to relatives should they not appear.

Temirbaev’s family still has received no official notification about his detention and whereabouts or any charges brought against him.

The manner of Temirbaev’s detention and the lack of information about his whereabouts raise fears of possible refoulement to Uzbekistan. These fears are further grounded in the events of late November 2005, when 17 Uzbek nationals who sought refuge in Kazakhstan—four of whom were officially registered as asylum seekers with UNHCR—were seized and forcibly returned to Uzbekistan, some with the direct involvement of Kazakh law enforcement and security agents. At least two of the November returnees have been sentenced to six years in prison in Uzbekistan on charges of participation in an “extremist” religious organization in a trial that fell far short of international fair trial standards. Other returnees are either on trial or are awaiting trial in Tashkent.

The forcible return of Gabdurafih Temirbaev as a recognized refugee would not only violate Kazakhstan’s obligation not to return persons to persecution, under article 33 of the 1951 Refugee Convention, but would also violate Kazakhstan’s obligations under the Convention against Torture, which prohibits such returns without exception. Uzbekistan has a well documented record of using torture and ill-treatment of detainees in police and security custody. In 2003, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, Theo van Boven, found torture in Uzbekistan to be “systematic.”

We call upon you as a matter of urgency to confirm Temirbaev’s whereabouts in custody and to grant him access to legal counsel. Particularly in view of Kazakhstan’s aspirations to the chairmanship of the OSCE in 2009, the government of Kazakhstan should fully comply with its international obligations and respect international norms and standards. We hope we can count on your leadership to ensure that that Temirbaev is not returned to Uzbekistan and that the many other families of Uzbek refugees in Kazakhstan can enjoy their rights under international law.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.

Sincerely,

Holly Cartner
Executive Director
Europe and Central Asia division