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Kazakh authorities must not return to Uzbekistan an Uzbek human rights advocate who is currently in custody in Almaty, Human Rights Watch said today. Lutfullo Shamsudinov, an activist from Andijan, was detained on the evening of July 4 pursuant to an Uzbek extradition request.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recognized Shamsudinov as a refugee and was in the process of resettling him to a third country. The arrest came as the Uzbek president, Islam Karimov, arrived in Kazakhstan for a regional summit starting today.

“Kazakhstan should step forward and protect this brave man,” said Holly Cartner, executive director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch. “Instead of that, the authorities seem ready to hand over a refugee to be tortured, in blatant violation of international law.”

Human Rights Watch said the Kazakh authorities must immediately give Shamsudinov access to UNHCR representatives and to a lawyer, and that he should not be returned to Uzbekistan under any circumstances. Uzbekistan is notorious for its widespread use of torture.

Shamsudinov was the Andijan representative for the Human Rights Society of
Uzbekistan and a witness to the massacre in Andijan, where Uzbek forces killed hundreds of unarmed protesters on May 13. He also co-authored a letter to the Uzbek government with other activists demanding accountability for the killings. He fled Uzbekistan, fearing persecution.

Shamsudinov’s arrest came on the eve of a meeting in Astana of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which includes Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. At the meeting’s opening session this morning President Nursultan Nazarbayev said that the organization was chiefly focused on the global campaign against terrorism and on economic cooperation.

A representative of the Almaty city prosecutor’s office told a credible source that Uzbek authorities had lodged five criminal charges against Shamsudinov, including premeditated murder. While the other four charges are not clear, the representative said that Shamsudinov was a “terrorist.”

“The terrorist accusation is a perversion of international concerns about terrorism and an attempt to block international support for Shamsudinov,” said Cartner. “In reality, he is someone who worked tirelessly towards the rule of law in Uzbekistan.”

Human Rights Watch urged the international community to ensure that Shamsudinov is not deported or extradited and that he be urgently resettled upon release from Kazakh custody.

Human Rights Watch said that the charges against Shamsudinov were related to his efforts to provide information and comment on the May 13 massacre in Andijan. Government persecution of Shamsudinov has been building. When Uzbek National Security Services (SNB) searched his office and home in May they told relatives that Shamsudinov was being investigated in conjunction with his cooperation with Saidjahon Zainabitdinov, another human rights defender who had been a key source of information about Andijan. Zainabitdinov remains in custody in Uzbekistan and there are serious concerns about his well-being. Human Rights Watch also learned that officials had pressured neighbors to denounce Shamsudinov’s wife.

Other human rights activists in Uzbekistan have also been detained, beaten and harassed since the Andijan killings, including numerous prominent human rights activists from Andijan.

As a party to both the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, and the Convention Against Torture, Kazakhstan cannot return a person to any country where he or she would face a risk of torture. In a 2003 report on Uzbekistan, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture found that torture was “systematic” in Uzbekistan.

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