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(Moscow) – Russia’s Supreme Court should stop the extradition of three ethnic Uzbeks to Kyrgyzstan, where they would be at serious risk of torture. On June 19, 2013, the court is scheduled to hear an appeal of the prosecutor general’s decision to extradite Gairatbek Saliev, in response to a request by the Kyrgyz government for his extradition to stand trial on multiple charges relating to the June 2010 interethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan.

Two other ethnic Uzbeks, Bakhtior Mamashev and Makhammadillo Kadirjanov, have appealed similar extradition orders, and their cases will be heard in Russia’s Supreme Court in the near future, Human Rights Watch said.

“The evidence that these men would face a serious risk of torture if they are sent back to Kyrgyzstan is overwhelming,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, referring to findings by the United Nations and civil society groups. “It should be clear to the Russian authorities that under international law, Russia cannot grant their extradition.”

Kyrgyz prosecutors claim the three men were among residents of the Suzak district of southern Kyrgyzstan who allegedly blocked the Bishkek-Osh highway near the Sanpa cotton factory on June 12 and 13, 2010, poured fuel oil on the road to slow vehicles, and attacked drivers and passengers. The investigation said that 16 people were killed and two others were reported missing as a result.

The incident took place amid massive interethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan in June 2010. More than 400 people were killed and approximately 2,000 houses were destroyed. While horrific crimes were committed against both Uzbeks and Kyrgyz, ethnic Uzbeks suffered the majority of casualties and destroyed homes.

Between February and May 2012, Russian authorities detained Mamashev, 29, and Saliev, 25, in Moscow, and Kadirjanov, 43, in Russia’s Orlovskii region. Russia’s Federal Migration Service rejected the men’s applications for refugee status, which each had filed after their arrest fearing persecution in Kyrgyzstan on grounds of their ethnicity.

The Russian Prosecutor General’s Office approved Saliev’s and Mamashev’s extradition in late February 2013, despite the well-founded fear of risk of torture and ill-treatment each faces if they are returned to Kyrgyzstan. In addition, at the time the extradition was approved, they had not exhausted their right to appeal the Federal Migration Service’s decision, a violation of Russian law. In March 2013, Kadirjanov’s extradition was similarly approved.

Reliable reports by Kyrgyz nongovernmental organizations, United Nations bodies, and Human Rights Watch indicate that torture is a longstanding problem in Kyrgyzstan. In February 2012, following his visit to Kyrgyzstan in 2011, the UN special rapporteur on torture concluded, “The use of torture and ill-treatment to extract confessions remains widespread,” and, “There is a serious lack of sufficiently speedy, thorough and impartial investigation into allegations of torture and ill-treatment.” He similarly found, “The general conditions in most places of detention visited amount to inhuman and degrading treatment.”

In August 2010 Kyrgyzstan prosecutorial authorities brought multiple criminal charges against Mamashev and Saliev for alleged crimes in connection with the Sanpa incident and issued warrants for their arrest. In October 2011 the Kyrgyz authorities charged Kadirjanov with similar crimes. Kyrgyz authorities put all three on a wanted list.

Over a dozen people, all ethnic Uzbeks, have been prosecuted in connection with the Sanpa case, and Kyrgyz authorities continue to pursue others on similar charges. In 2011, 18 people were sentenced to life in prison on charges related to the incident, and one defendant was sentenced to 25 years. Similar charges were brought against Shamshidin Niyazaliev, another ethnic Uzbek, who was detained in Kazakhstan and extradited to Kyrgyzstan. In October 2012 he was sentenced to life in prison.

Human Rights Watch research from 2010 through 2012 in southern Kyrgyzstan found that the use of torture by law enforcement officials in their investigations into the June 2010 violence was widespread. Human Rights Watch also found that because the investigation disproportionately targeted ethnic Uzbeks, they are at heightened risk of torture in custody.

There is an overwhelming lack of accountability for torture in Kyrgyzstan, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch has found that the use of torture and ill-treatment in the context of the June 2010 investigation was accompanied by numerous violations of detainees’ due process rights, such as the right to representation by a lawyer of their own choosing and the right to consult with a lawyer in private. Furthermore, audiences in courtrooms during trials have threatened, harassed, intimidated, and even physically attacked defendants, their relatives, and lawyers and other observers. As recently as April 2, during a Supreme Court review of a case concerning the same road incident, people in the courtroom attacked the defendant’s mother and lawyers. Yet the court did almost nothing to protect them or hold the attackers accountable.

As grounds for approving their extradition in court documents, Russian authorities cite diplomatic assurances by the Kyrgyz government that Kadirjanov, Mamashev, and Saliev will not be ill-treated in custody and will be provided legal counsel if they are returned to Kyrgyzstan. Russian authorities have also claimed, “International laws and the laws of the Russian Federation do not place any obstacles to [their] extradition.”

“Kyrgyzstan’s record on torture is clear, especially in the context of the investigation into the 2010 violence,” Williamson said. “So it’s also clear that assurances by the Kyrgyz government on torture lack credibility.”

In the Supreme Court hearings reviewing the extradition of Kadirjanov, Mamashev, and Saliev to Kyrgyzstan, the court should act in accordance with the binding legal obligations not to return an individual to a country where he faces a serious risk of torture, Human Rights Watch said. Those obligations are spelled out in international law and treaties to which Russia is a party, including the Convention against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Following the fifth periodic review of Russia’s compliance with the Convention against Torture in December 2012, the UN Committee Against Torture noted concern about reports of Russia relying on diplomatic assurances to return people to countries where they face a well-founded risk of torture. The committee specifically noted concern about returns to “members of the Commonwealth of Independent States in Central Asia, when those extraditions or expulsions expose the individuals concerned to a substantial risk that they will be subjected to torture in their countries of origin.” The committee recommended that Russia “discontinue the practice of relying upon diplomatic assurances concerning the extradition and expulsion of persons from its territory to States where they would face a risk of torture.”

European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) jurisprudence has also found that diplomatic assurances are unreliable and insufficient to satisfy a country’s obligation under the treaty and that they do not protect people against torture and ill-treatment. For example, in 1996, the ECtHR ruled in the case of Chahal v. United Kingdom that the return to India of a Sikh activist would violate the UK’s absolute obligation not to return a person to risk of torture, despite diplomatic assurances from the Indian government. The Chahal case remains the standard in Europe, confirming the absolute nature of the prohibition against returning a person to risk of torture, no matter what crime he or she is suspected of having committed.

“Russian authorities have heard it over and over again, and it is still true today – the prohibition on torture is absolute,” Williamson said. “Russia must adhere to its international obligations to prevent these men from being returned to Kyrgyzstan.”

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