"Rustam" fled Uzbekistan six years ago for what he thought was a safe haven, Norway. Now the 26-year-old says he’s in danger of being deported back to Uzbekistan, where he could face imprisonment, torture and maybe worse.
Known to us only by his pseudonym, lest his family in Uzbekistan face reprisals, Rustam has been has been held in a detention center in Oslo since June 12. On that day Norwegian authorities rejected his third plea for asylum, he has told Danish journalist Michael Andersen.
Andersen – who has long covered human rights abuses in Uzbekistan – reports that Rustam fled Uzbekistan in 2006 after he was imprisoned and tortured for starting an NGO called “Movement for Freedom” to protest the use of child slave labor in the Uzbek cotton harvest.
In Norway, Rustam says he has been working as the Webmaster for an opposition site, Jarayon, run by prominent dissident-in-exile Mutabar Tadjibaeva. Tadjibaeva, who has lived in France since 2008, confirms she has employed Rustam since August 2010 and says she has hundreds of emails to prove it. She is incredulous that the Norwegian authorities rejected Rustam’s case and worries that Rustam’s links to her and her website mean certain jail and torture if he sent back.
Andersen, the Danish journalist, told EurasiaNet.org he is concerned not only for the health of Rustam, but for his life, and says the West is too eager to look the other way.
“There is a much wider perspective to this,” Andersen said. “In Uzbekistan, this young man defended children's right not to work as slaves for a brutal and corrupt government. And he was chucked in prison for this. He has worked for us in the West to know more about this terrible regime. And I am afraid that instead we are closing our eyes and ears. And he will soon be returned to this brutal regime he fled, a regime we know – this is fact, not guesses – has imprisoned and tortured thousands of innocent people.”
Rustam’s case is no anomaly. Last month, the UN Committee Against Torture reprimanded Kazakhstan for extraditing 29 asylum seekers back to Uzbekistan in 2010. The Committee ruled that their extradition violated the UN’s Conventions against Torture, since the men would likely be subject to torture upon returning to Uzbekistan.
Moreover, in 2011, Nadejda Atayeva, head of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, writes that an Uzbek family was deported from Norway, where they had sought asylum for religious persecution. Upon landing in Tashkent, the mother was detained and her laptop confiscated, though she was later released.
Tadjibaeva and Rustam hope that the UN’s recent criticism of Kazakhstan will help Norway reconsider.
Authorities in Oslo told EurasiaNet.org they are unable to comment on the case without Rustam’s written permission.