©2006 RFE/RL, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

With the kind permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, InfoUkes Inc. has been given rights to electronically re-print these articles on our web site. Visit the RFE/RL Ukrainian Service page for more information. Also visit the RFE/RL home page for news stories on other Eastern European and FSU countries.

Return to Main RFE News Page
InfoUkes Home Page

ukraine-related news stories from RFE

Russian prosecutors have ruled that 12 Uzbeks and a Kyrgyz national should be extradited to Uzbekistan to face charges of involvement in the unrest that provoked a deadly government crackdown in May 2005. The decision comes despite the fact that all 13 have been granted UN refugee status since their detention in Russia more than a year ago.

The 13 men have been in detention in Ivanovo, northeast of the Russian capital, since June 2005. On August 3, the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office announced that it had decided to extradite them all to Uzbekistan.

Defense lawyer Svetlana Martynova told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that the news came as a serious blow to her clients. She characterized fellow defense lawyer Irina Sokolova's assessment: "They don't feel well. Irina says they have all lost weight, [and] their health has deteriorated badly. And, of course, they all fear a return to their country. As [Irina] said, they all were crying in the courtroom."

In a statement posted on the website of the Prosecutor-General's Office on August 3, authorities said the Uzbek extradition request is not politically motivated but based solely on criminal charges. The statement also said Russia has received written assurances from Uzbek officials that the 13 will neither be tortured nor sentenced to death. But it is also unlikely that Russian authorities would aggressively monitor their treatment, particularly as Moscow grows increasingly cozy with Uzbekistan's strong-arm administration.

International rights advocates and a number of Western governments suspect Uzbek authorities of routinely torturing detainees. Independent rights groups have expressed fear that just such a fate could await these refugees if they are forcibly returned.

Uzbek authorities accuse the 13 men of involvement in the Andijon unrest in May 2005, which it has characterized as a terrorist uprising. The defense says that all but one were out of the country at the time, and he was only in Andijon to obtain a new passport.

Lawyer Martynova adds that her Uzbek clients simply are not the revolutionary type. She says nearly all are university educated and all have lived and worked in Russia for years.

After their arrest, the 13 applied for refugee status in Russia. The Russian Federal Migration Service rejected their applications based on the extradition request from Uzbekistan. But UN representatives visited them in custody and granted them refugee status.

The UN's half-century-old convention on refugees clearly states that no refugee may be expelled lawfully except "on grounds of national security or public order." Russian authorities have not accused these detainees of any wrongdoing.

The Moscow-based Memorial human rights center says the charges brought against them are fabricated. "I talked to their friends, relatives, and colleagues," Memorial's Bahrom Hamraev told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service. "I have examined the issue from all viewpoints. These people have no connection to the Andijon events whatsoever. I believe it is nothing but slander by the Uzbek government."

Defense lawyer Martynova also claims the case is politically motivated. She said it is rooted in the defendants' public activism during the run-up to Andijon, when protests mounted over a trial of suspected Islamic radicals:

"The three of them published an Internet article in March [2005]. They appealed to the public to attract attention to the situation in Uzbekistan -- to arbitrariness, torture, [and] executions without trials amid poverty and devastation," Martynova said. "However, they also wrote that they did not want a violent change of the constitutional regime but simply wanted to highlight what was going on. But they did not call for violence, although they expressed their position. It was in March, right before the Andijon events. I believe that was the reason."

Yelena Ryabinina, who heads the Central Asian political immigrants program for the Moscow-based rights group Civic Assistance (Grazhdanskoye Sodeistviye), says officials in Tashkent accuse the men of having financed the unrest from Russia. But if that were the case, she says they should face trial where they are suspected of having committed the crime -- in Russia.

Critics of Moscow's cooperation in these cases note that Russian officials went so far as to strip their own citizen, Hatam Hajimatovan, an ethnic Uzbek detained along with the others, of his citizenship. He has since fled through Ukraine and resettled in Norway, with UN political asylum.

Ryabinina said the Uzbeks in Ivanovo are victims of the recent rapprochement between Moscow and Tashkent. "Of course, undoubtedly, it has been a result of the rapprochement since the very beginning," she said. "After the Andijon tragedy, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin was virtually the only one who not only did not condemn [Uzbek President Islam] Karimov for mass shootings of his own citizens, but practically supported him and recognized his correctness."

A Russian Supreme Court decision on July 21 might provide a ray of hope for these detainees. The court ruled that the extradition case of an Uzbek man, Bayramali Yusupov, accused by Uzbek authorities of Islamic extremism in 1999 should get another hearing from a lower court.

Ryabinina said the defense in this case will appeal the prosecutors' extradition order within 10 days. "Lawyer Irina Sokolova has the appeal ready," she said. "As soon as [the text of] the official decision is received -- and [the Uzbeks] get not only faxed copies but also [originals of] official documents -- they will appeal. If the first court -- the Ivanovo regional court -- does not comply with the appeal, they will appeal to the Supreme Court."

The Uzbek refugees have also sought help from the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which they petitioned in January. That case will proceed more emphatically, according to their lawyers, following this latest setback at the hands of Russian prosecutors.

UKRAINIAN SOCIALISTS SUBSCRIBE TO EXPANDED COALITION... The Socialist Party of Ukraine has signed a memorandum on the formation of a ruling coalition in a new format, UNIAN reported on August 4, quoting Socialist Party lawmaker Ivan Bokyy. A similar memorandum on the creation of a "coalition of national unity" was signed by the Party of Regions and Our Ukraine on August 3, following the nomination of Viktor Yanukovych as a candidate for prime minister by President Viktor Yushchenko. Yanukovych was proposed for the post of prime minister last month by an "anticrisis" coalition of the Party of Regions, the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party. It is not clear whether the Communist Party will agree to reformatting the anticrisis coalition into a new one to include Our Ukraine. Communist Party activist Leonid Hrach told UNIAN that the Communist Party already signed the agreement on the formation of the anticrisis coalition with the Party of Regions and the Socialists. "If anyone wants to join [this coalition], they should sign the memorandum, but we do not need to," Hrach added. JM

...AS YULIYA TYMOSHENKO BLOC OPTS FOR OPPOSITION. Yuliya Tymoshenko, head of the eponymous political bloc, said after the signing of a declaration of national unity in Kyiv on August 3 by the Party of Regions, Our Ukraine, the Socialist Party, the Communist Party, and President Yushchenko that her force will remain in an "uncompromising opposition" to the ruling coalition, Ukrainian media reported. "For me, the declaration of principles, whatever has been written there, is a capitulation in front of forces that have been allowed to come back and date back to the time of [former] President [Leonid] Kuchma," Tymoshenko said. "I believe that this absurdity will not survive for long, and that we will be an uncompromising opposition." JM