A Moscow city court has halted the deportation of independent journalist Khudoberdi Nurmatov, better known by his penname Ali Feruz, his employer, the independent Novaya Gazeta newspaper, reported. The ruling follows a European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) order to temporarily delay the deportation until it can rule on the journalist’s appeal.
Nurmatov and his supporters emphasize that he should be allowed to stay in Russia on humanitarian grounds, as he would face imprisonment and torture if returned to his native Uzbekistan.
The court also agreed to include in the case several previous asylum decisions, a translation of the ECHR ruling, and a letter from Novaya Gazeta stressing his value to the organization. Additionally, it granted the defense’s petition to question Nurmatov’s mother, Zoya.
Speaking before the court, Zoya Nurmatova stated that all of her five living children except Khudoberdi have Russian citizenship.
“He also wanted it, but he lost his passport,” she said. She explained that Nurmatov grew up in Russia, living with her and the family until the tenth grade in school, when he returned to Uzbekistan to finish his education there. After leaving Moscow, he still helped support his mother financially, even sending money for her to have a cataract operation.
Nurmatov fled Uzbekistan in 2008, after the Uzbek National Security Service kidnapped him and demanded that he inform them about a friend’s political views. After he refused, the security officers tortured him and threatened to jail him on false charges. Finally, Nurmatov agreed to cooperate, but instead left the country. In 2011, he returned to Russia.
Since then, his reasons for fearing the authoritarian country of his citizenship have only grown. Uzbekistan is essentially a police state, and torture is widespread in its prison system. Besides working as an independent journalist and a human rights activist, Nurmatov has come out as gay since moving to Russia. In Uzbekistan, same-sex sexual contact between men is illegal and punishable by up to 3 years in prison.
In court, Nurmatov’s lawyer asked his mother whether she knew why her son was afraid to return to Uzbekistan.
“We don’t understand why they detained him,” she answered. “He was not aggressive, he did well in school. He doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, he can’t fight with anyone. But they beat him up one night.”
After the hearing, Nurmatov told journalists that, in Uzbekistan, he expects “a slow, torturous death.”
“For more than three years, I have been in the process of receiving asylum, and all this time the Interior Ministry has had no reasons [to investigate me] ,” he said. The ministry only took an interest “in March, after I wrote a story about the elections in Uzbekistan. I believe that this is all connected with my journalistic work.”
Nurmatov will now continue to be held in a migrant detention center until the conclusion of his case. After his last hearing, Nurmatov was reportedly tortured with electric shockers by detention guards.
//By Matthew Kupfer