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Thursday, August 04, 2005

 

Uzbek refugees now turn to Kazakhstan

From Radio Free Europe:

Speaking from Kazakh city of Almaty, Sobitkhon Ustaboyev said he made a decision to flee to Kazakhstan after being detained for 15 days on charges of unconstitutional activity.

He said the detention came soon after the deadly May violence in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon and his receiving threats to stop working as a human-rights activist.

"I received the first threat before my release, in prison," Ustaboyev said. "They told me, they warned me. They said: 'Sobitkhon, you know very well yourself, that the 15-day detention is not the end. The prosecutor can revise the decision as new proofs of your guilt are found. The [criminal] case can be re-launched.' Three days before my release they told me: 'You ruined the fate of your eldest son. Now, think of the fate of your young son.' That was enough for me."

Ustaboyev's eldest son, along with his father, was involved in monitoring the human-rights situation in Namangan and the nearby city of Andijon where the violent clashes between protestors and government troops that erupted on 13 May led to the death of hundreds of civilians.

Kazakhstan became a possible destination for Uzbek refugees after Lutfullo Shamsutdinov, a human rights activist from Andijon, fled there shortly after the crackdown in eastern Uzbekistan.

Shamsutdinov had monitored the trial of the 23 businessmen accused of belonging to the banned Islamic group Akramiya that led to the Andijon uprising.

Shamsutdinov was arrested in Kazakhstan in early June at the request of Uzbek authorities who demanded his extradition, saying he was a suspected terrorist. But Shamsutdinov, together with six members of his family, were recognized as refugees by the UN Refugee Agency, or UNHCR.

The UNHCR put pressure on Kazakh authorities, saying they should not obey an extradition request from Uzbekistan because the 1951 Geneva Conventions forbid the forced return of refugees and asylum seekers to their country of origin.

Shamsutdinov was then released and flown to a European country where he received political asylum.

Rizokhoja Obidov, an independent journalist from Andijon, also fled to Kazakhstan, after initially being detained by Uzbek authorities following the violence in Andijon. He told RFE/RL he was encouraged to do so by the Kazakh authorities' decision not to collaborate with Uzbek security services.

Obidov has also received refugee status and now awaits his transfer to a Western country.

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