Strasbourg Finds Russian Authorities Complicit in Kidnap of Uzbek Refugee

Elena Ryabinina, 03/10/12 


· European Court of Human Rights  · Access to justice  · Uzbekistan  · Refugees, migrants

On 2 October 2012 the European Court of Human Rights passed a judgment on the application of Uzbekistan citizen Murodzhon Abdulkhakov (case No. 14743/11 Abdulkhakov v. Russia) related to the decision by the Russian Federation authorities to extradite the applicant to Uzbekistan where there is a serious risk he will be subjected to torture. The Court established that Articles 3 (prohibition of torture) and 5 (right to liberty and security) of the Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms were violated regarding the applicant. 

In addition to this and equally important is that the Court established the liability of the Russian authorities for the consequences of the applicant's unlawful forced transfer to Tajikistan in violation of the Court's order to refrain from deporting him until his case was examined in Strasbourg. The judgment indicates the Russian Federation authorities violated their obligations under Article 34 of the Convention, according to which state-participants must not in any way hinder persons under their jurisdiction from effectively exercising their right to apply to the Court with an individual application.
Andijan native Murodzhon Abdulkhakov, born 1979, was detained in Moscow in December 2009 in connection with an investigation into him by Uzbekistan law enforcement agencies for his alleged involvement with a religion organisation by the name Dzhamaat1. These charges were brought against him as a result of the fact that he prayed in an unauthorized place and that during the search of his house, which was conducted after his departure, police discovered a book by an imam from the Kyrgyz city of Kara-Suu, Mukhammadrafik Kamalov2, which was sold freely in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan. 

Throughout the period of the extradition check Murodzhon stated that his criminal prosecution in his home country was motivated on grounds of religion. He applied to the Russian authorities with a petition for refugee status and was refused. The consequent appeal was unsuccessful. In May 2010 the General Prosecutor's Office of the Russian Federation passed a ruling to extradite Abdulkhakov, despite the fact that at that time he was appealing the refusal to grant him refugee status and a final decision was yet to be taken. Nevertheless both Moscow City Court and the Supreme Court ignored the ban on forced return of asylum seekers to their country of origin and the absolute ban on deportation in circumstances where the applicant is at serious risk of being tortured. The extradition ruling came into forced but it was prevented by the suspension by Strasbourg's application of Rule 39 of the Rules of Court in Abdulkhakov's case. Murodzhon was released on 9 June 2011 after 18 months in custody.

Soon after his release he applied to the UNHCR which quickly recognised that he was in need of international protection. He also submitted an application for temporary asylum in the Russian Federation to the Federal Migration Service for Moscow and handed in his passport to be kept at the migration agency as directed by law. He was quickly refused temporary asylum, at which point he exercised his right to appeal the decision, but the day after submitting his appeal - 23 August 2011 - he disappeared. It has subsequently emerged that he was kidnapped along with two Tajik men by two unknown individuals wearing plain clothes. The kidnapping took place in the centre of Moscow in broad daylight and in full view of police. By evening the two unknown men had beaten all three victims and had brought them directly to the runway at Domodedovo airport. They put them on a flight to Khujand escorted by other unknown individuals. The kidnappers were not required to go through any pre-flight procedures - registration, customs, passport control or security - to do this.

After three days of beatings in the 6th Police Department3 in Khujand, Abdulkhakov was taken to Dushanbe. He was questioned there at the Organised Crime Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Tajikistan, after which a court ruled he be held in custody until his subsequent extradition to Uzbekistan. He soon managed to contact his representatives in Moscow and tell them what happened and in three months, possibly as a result of an active campaign in his defence, Murodzhon was released.

The initial response given by the Russian authorities to the Court's enquiry was that they did not know anything about Abdulkhakov's location and suggested that he had travelled somewhere which may have been Tajikistan (even though his passport was still with the FMS in Moscow). When the defence presented incontrovertible evidence that Murodzhon was held in custody in Dushanbe for the purposes of being extradited to Uzbekistan, and when they received the account of the entire kidnapping written by Murodzhon himself after his release from Dushanbe pre-trial detention facility, similar investigations began which on several occasions resulted in the questioning of his Moscow lawyer.

In the European Court's judgment it was found that not only did the Russian authorities not refute the applicant's logical and consistent explanations, but that they did not take adequate measures to establish the identity of the persons involved in his kidnapping and unlawful relocation out of the Russian Federation. The Court made special note of the fact that the deportation to Tajikistan, which is not a signatory to the European Convention, created the danger of Abdulkhakov being extradited to his home country in spite of Strasbourg's ban, that this violated the applicant's right to apply to the Court with an individual application, and that the responsibility for this lay with the Russian authorities.

The Court indicated that extradition to Uzbekistan presented serious risk of torture for the applicant in violation of Article 3 of the Convention. It was also established that the first two months of Abdulkhakov's imprisonment in a Moscow pre-trial detention facility prior to extradition violated Article 5, part 1, of the Convention in that he was held in custody on the grounds of a Prosecutor's Office ruling which had been issued on the basis of a decision of an Uzbek court, and without a Russian court order. And finally the Court noted that the applicant's lack of opportunities to achieve a review of the legality of his imprisonment throughout the last six months of his 18-month imprisonment violated the requirements of Article 5, part 4, of the Convention.

The Court ordered that the Russian Federation authorities pay the applicant 30,000 euros in compensation for moral harm inflicted and 7,800 euros compensation for expenses, after the Court's judgment comes into force.

At the national level Murodzhon Abdulkhakov's defence was led by lawyer Darya Trenina, who represented his interests at the European Court of Human Rights alongside the Director of the Right to Asylum Programme of the Human Rights Institute, Elena Ryabinina.

About the author: Elena Ryabinina is director of the Right to Asylum Programme at the Human Rights Institute

1 This organisation does not exist.

2 An imam at the Kara-Suu mosque in southern Kyrgyzstan who is very popular throughout the Fergana Valley. He was killed in the summer of 2006 in strange circumstances which have yet to be explained.

3 Organised crime and terrorism division.