Will yet another refugee be kidnapped in Russia?

Elena Ryabinina
, 31/10/2012 

Source: HRO.org

On 2 November 2012, Tajik national Ismon Azimov, whose extradition has been requested by Tajik law enforcement authorities on charges of anti-government activities, is to be released. He has already been held in a special detention centre for foreigners awaiting deportation for a year now. The Russian authorities "determined" that he go there instead of being released after spending a year in prison when the maximum period of his detention with a view to extradition expired.

Two judgments on the enforced return of Azimov to Tajikistan have already come into force: the decision of the Russian General Prosecutor's Office on his extradition and the court ruling on administrative expulsion. However, neither one can actually be carried out because the European Court has applied an interim measure under Rule 39 of the Rules of Court, according to which the Russian authorities are informed that the Applicant should not be removed from Russian territory until his case is heard in the Court, or until further notice.

In light of the recent disappearance of another Tajik national, Abdulvosi Latipova, in Volgograd in much the same circumstances, Azimov and his defence lawyers fear that he could be kidnapped and forcibly flown back home after his release. Because of this, Ismon is repeating what he has already stated repeatedly: he does not intend to return to Tajikistan under any circumstances. He is convinced that torture awaits him there, as part part of an investigation into a trumped-up charge, and an unfair trial that will result in him being innocently sentenced to many years of imprisonment. Aware that all of his compatriots abducted from Russia were later forced to sign confessions, Ismon maintains that if he should disappear here and subsequently reappear in Tajikistan, which the authorities will declare to be "voluntary", any such "confession" must be regarded as an undeniable result of violent coercion. Azimov's fears are not without foundation; according to reports by Amnesty International, Azimov's compatriot Ilkhom Ismanov, who was convicted at home as part of the same criminal case in which Azimov is being tried, was tortured during the investigation in an attempt to obtain false testimony against Ismon, among other things.


33 year-old Ismon Azimov is the younger brother of one of the members of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) during the civil war in Tajikistan, who was twice convicted there of attempting to overthrow the constitutional system, in spite of the much publicised "national reconciliation" and amnesty for members of the UTO. According to Ismon, since that time both he and the entire family of the opposition activist have been subject to pressure from law enforcement bodies; they lived in constant fear and night searches were an everyday occurrence.

Since 2002 Ismon has lived for the most part in Russia, where he felt relatively safe. He has traded dried fruits in and around Moscow that his family grew in Tajikistan, and has travelled home to harvest them every year. On one such trip he met up with his brother, who told him that he had been severely tortured during a preliminary investigation.

In 2008 Azimov joined supporters of the Tajik opposition party "Vatandor", which seeks democratic reform in Tajikistan, and began taking part in its meetings.

In 2009 Ismon left Tajikistan for the last time and has lived in the Moscow region ever since. He was arrested on 3 November 2010 under a search warrant issued by Tajik law enforcement agencies, which charged him with belonging to the Islamist organisation. It should be noted that they have in this particular case accused a man of religious extremism who calls himself no more than an ethnic Muslim who, where possible, observes the basic principles of Islam. As Ismon himself admits, the subject of religion is not and never has been a priority in his life.

After his arrest Azimov applied to the office of the Russian Federal Migration Service for the Moscow region for refugee status and, sure enough, it refused to grant his request. During the appeal, a fact came to light that explained the exceptional zeal of the Russian law enforcement authorities in their efforts to despatch Azimov to Tajikistan: for at least a year, the extradition case against him had been under the control of the Russian President.

In June 2011 the Russian General Prosecutor's Office ordered that Azimov be extradited before the matter of his refugee status had been resolved. This did not, incidentally, prevent either the Moscow Regional Court or the Russian Supreme Court from recognising the extradition ruling as lawful. Because the term of Ismon's detention was to expire before the extradition ruling was reviewed in the Russian Supreme Court, it was decided that he should not be released. On the day before he was to be let out, Azimov was taken to Dolgoprudnensky City Court, which issued an order for his deportation. The reason given was that even before his arrest Azimov had lost his passport and had been living in Russia unlawfully. The still-ongoing process to establish his refugee status did not change anything at this point.

As a result, Ismon's "release" from prison took the form of his being escorted to a detention centre. Soon afterwards, he was visited there by law enforcement officials in the middle of the night, including the notorious E Division, who had аssisted in his detention a year earlier. They photographed Azimov (seemingly, for the purposes of registering a travel document with the Tajik Embassy for someone who has lost their passport abroad) and, having said that they were going to send him home, suggested that he return voluntarily, which he of course categorically refused to do.

As things stand, the case of Azimov v. Russia has already passed the preliminary stage in the European Court and is awaiting a substantive hearing. Note that when a compatriot of Azimov’s, Savriddin Dzhuraev, who was ultimately sentenced in Khudzhand to 26 years, disappeared his case in Strasbourg was at this very stage. After the kidnapping of Savriddin a great deal of correspondence began between his representatives, the Court and Georgiy Matyushkin, Russian envoy to the ECHR, in which the Russian authorities resolutely denied their involvement in the forced rendition of Dzhuraev to Tajikistan. 

Incidentally, they have also denied this in the case of Murodzhon Abdulkhakov, who was also kidnapped in Moscow and transported to Tajikistan and notably, as in the case of Savriddin, without a passport. But the authorities' reasoning did not convince the Court; on 2 October this year the ECHR ruled on the Abdulkhakov v. Russia action and established, among other things, that Russia had contravened Art. 34 of the Convention (the right to make an individual application to Strasbourg) in connection with failing to observe the requirements of Rule 39 of the Rules of Court. As an aside, Abdulkhakov was being represented at the Court by the same experts who are handling the cases of Savriddin Dzhuraev and Ismon Azimov.

Azimov's defence is hopeful that they will avoid a kidnapping in his case but, nevertheless, are taking steps to prevent it, if any such attempts are made.

Finally, it is worth noting that Ismon Azimov has already requested that the Federal Migration Service for the Moscow region grant him temporary asylum in Russia, and his appeal to the UNHCR for international protection is currently under consideration.

About the author: Elena Ryabinina,
Head of the Right to Asylum programme,
Human Rights Institute