Abdulvosi Latipov had been in and out of Russian courts facing extradition hearings for years. Authorities in his native Tajikistan wanted to try Latipov, who allegedly fought with the opposition during the country’s 1990s civil war, on charges including kidnapping and terrorism. He was seeking asylum, fearing, probably rightly, that he would never receive a fair trial in Tajikistan.
Under its commitments to the European Court of Human Rights, Russia cannot extradite a suspect to a country where he might be tortured (like Tajikistan, where abuse is well documented).
Yet somehow, Amnesty International reports, Latipov is back in Tajikistan and being held incommunicado. “Reportedly he was released from detention [in Russia] on 15 October 2012 and days later forcibly taken from a flat he had been staying [in] by unidentified armed men wearing masks,” Amnesty said this month. Now in Tajikistan, “his lawyer fears that his client is being tortured and otherwise ill-treated in order to extract confessions or force him to incriminate other people.”
It's not the first time a Central Asian has disappeared in Russia only to reappear a few days later in a prison cell at home.
For example, another Tajikistani, Savriddin Juraev, was reportedly abducted in late 2011 from a Moscow metro station, according to an account by Fergananews.com. A few weeks later he appeared in a Khujand prison. He could not have voluntarily returned home because he did not have his passport, only a temporary asylum certificate. On April 19 this year he was sentenced to 26 years in prison for, as Fergananews.com reports, attempting to overthrow the government. Juraev maintains his innocence.
Then there’s Nizomkhon Juraev (unclear if he is related to Savriddin, but the name is quite common). His is a similar story from last spring – he showed up Dushanbe (again without a passport) while his case in Russia was pending before the European Court of Human Rights, according to Amnesty.
The list goes on, numbering in the dozens according to right activists. And the cases often follow a common pattern: After years of court appeals on assorted charges in Russia, the asylum seeker is suddenly released from Russian custody. Days later he disappears. Many of these cases involve nationals of Uzbekistan, where Human Rights Watch has described in painful detail an unjust court system and a notoriously brutal security forces.
For example, since 2009 Uzbek authorities had sought Azamatzhon Ermakov on charges of Islamic extremism. From Russia, he had fought extradition and filed for asylum. In mid-2011, also according to an account by Fergananews.com, he was arrested in Nizhny Novgorod with a grenade – which he says police planted on him. On November 2, his lawyer appeared at the prison to visit his client. Ermakov was gone and Russian authorities, as usual, have been keeping mum.
In past cases, Russian officials have argued they do not believe those being extradited will face torture at home. In the case of Nizomkhon Juraev, as reported by Amnesty, the Moscow City Court ruled in 2011 that such fears are unfounded because Tajikistan has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, gotten rid of the death penalty, and given assurances that detainees would not be tortured. The court also argued that extant reports about the use of torture in Tajikistan were outdated.
Moscow rarely bows to the demands of its Central Asian neighbors, especially recalcitrant Uzbekistan. But when it comes to the extraordinary rendition of real or imagined troublemakers, the Russian authorities seem only too happy to comply.