Uzbek Men Fighting Deportation Return to Rights Court

Two years after it ruled that two Uzbek men are no longer at the risk of ill-treatment in Kyrgyzstan, the European Court of Human Rights reheard the case Wednesday.

Protesters wave Kyrgyz national flags in front of the government building in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on Oct. 14, 2020. (AP Photo/Vladimir Voronin)

LUXEMBOURG (CN) — Europe’s top rights court heard arguments Wednesday from two Uzbek men who say they will be tortured or killed if deported from Russia to Kyrgyzstan. 

Adhering to Covid-19 restrictions, the European Court of Human Rights, or ECHR, held a virtual hearing on the appeal.

“The applicants’ ethnic identity makes them part of a particularly vulnerable group in Kyrgyzstan,” their lawyer, Nadezhda Yermolayeva told Strasbourg-based court. 

Turdyvay Khasanov and Shavkatbek Rakhmanov are both Kyrgyz citizens and members of the Uzbek ethnic minority who fled Kyrgyzstan to avoid criminal charges. Both were convicted in absentia in 2010 and 2012, respectively. 

After their arrests in Russia, Khasanov and Rakhmanov contested their extradition to Kyrgyzstan on the grounds that they were members of a vulnerable minority group. But the ECHR turned them down in 2019, saying ethnic Uzbeks were no longer at risk of ill-treatment solely because of their ethnic origin. Both men appealed. The ECHR was created in 1953 by the European Convention of Human Rights to protect the civil and political rights of its 47 member states. 

“There is no evidence of criminal convictions or ill-treatment in prisons along ethnic lines,” lawyer Mikhail Galperin, deputy minister of justice, said on behalf of Moscow. He emphasized that both extradition requests were examined by the Russian Supreme Court. 

Khasanov was convicted of fraud for embezzling money from the company he worked for. Rakhmanov was also convicted in absentia. He was charged for his role in a series of racially motivated attacks where, along with others, he barricaded a highway, stopped passing cars, robbed the occupants and lit the cars on fire. Ultimately, he was charged with murdering six people. At the time, Kyrgyzstan was engaged in a yearlong civil conflict between Kyrgyz people and Uzbeks after the outset of the country’s president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev. The conflict killed some 2,000 people and more than 100,000 fled to neighboring Uzbekistan. 

As Khasanov’s crime was unrelated to ethnicity, Russia argued there was no evidence he would be mistreated in jail. Khasanov’s lawyers argued that merely being an ethnic Uzbek was enough to put him in danger and questioned Russia’s evidence that Kyrgyzstan was not discriminating against minority groups. “Some of the arguments of the Russian government are not accompanied by any statistics or evidence at all,” lawyer Kirill Zharinov said on behalf of his clients. 

The situation in Kyrgyzstan continued to be volatile. The current president, Talant Mamytov, ascended to power after his predecessor was forced to resign following an uprising in 2020. It’s the third time in 15 years the country’s head of state has been ousted. 

The court did not issue a timeline for when it will issue its ruling. 

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