Security services across the former Soviet Union are increasingly collaborating to send Central Asian nationals – often critics and others with legitimate asylum requests – home to countries where they face a real risk of torture and abuse, according to a new report by London-based Amnesty International.
In the July 3 report, "Return to torture: Extradition, forcible returns and removals to Central Asia," the watchdog exposed the ease with which Central Asian states secure the return of their citizens from other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States, a post-Soviet club. Few CIS nations wish to damage relations by refusing extradition requests, the report says. Moreover, perceived mutual interests in fighting terrorism come long before human rights in this region, even though the threat is often exaggerated.
“Twenty years after the break-up of the Soviet Union, old collegiate ties, common institutional cultures and the shared perception across the region of the threat from Islamist extremist groups bind together the successor institutions to the Soviet KGB,” John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Program Director, said in a press release. “These renditions would not be possible without the complicity of public officials in the judicial and law enforcement structures. Nor would they be possible without CIS states willfully disregarding the absolute ban on torture and their obligation not to return people to countries where they may be at risk of torture.”
Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, two countries where torture is reportedly rampant, are making the most requests.
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.