Saturday, December 03, 2005
Kazakhstan returns refugees to Uzbekistan
Kazakh authorities have forcibly returned ten persons who had fled persecution in Uzbekistan, in violation of Kazakhstan’s international commitments, Human Rights Watch said today. A second group of Uzbeks missing in Kazakhstan are feared to be at risk of “disappearance” and forcible return. The forcible returns took place days before Kazakhstan is scheduled to hold presidential elections on December 4. The men were sought by Uzbekistan on charges of “religious extremism.” Human Rights Watch called on Kazakhstan to stop the forcible return of Uzbeks who face a risk of torture in Uzbekistan.
A Tashkent defense attorney told Human Rights Watch that ten men forcibly returned to Uzbekistan are now in the custody of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Tashkent. According to the lawyer, Kazakh authorities arrested the men on November 28 in Shymkent, in southern Kazakhstan, and handed them over to the Uzbek authorities at the border between the two countries later that same night (3 a.m. on November 29). It did not appear that the Kazakh authorities followed any official extradition procedure or that there was any judicial review of the cases before the handover. One of the ten men forcibly returned to Uzbekistan is Nozim Rakhmonov, an asylum-seeker who had registered his application with UNHCR prior to being detained.
Kazakhstan’s arrest of Uzbeks seeking protection from repression at home comes as Kazakhstan’s own rights record is under scrutiny. Ahead of the December 4 elections, the government has cracked down on independent media and the political opposition. The pre-election environment has been marred by the detention of opposition activists on trumped up charges, violations of freedom of assembly, and allegations of physical attacks on relatives of opposition leaders. Local groups charged that the Nazarbaev government has illegally seized opposition newspapers and denied the opposition equal access to the media.
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