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Russia halts the deportation of an independent journalist, but he still might have to spend the next two years in a detention facility

Source: Meduza
Artem Geodakyan / TASS / Scanpix / LETA

On August 8, Moscow’s city court stayed a regional judge’s order to deport Novaya Gazeta freelance reporter Khudoberdi Nurmatov, who writes under the pen name Ali Feruz, to Uzbekistan, where the journalist says “a slow painful death” awaits him. Feruz has sought asylum in Russia since 2012. The controversial deportation was halted, however, with a special ruling by the European Court of Human Rights prohibiting Feruz’s transfer until his appeal is heard in Strasbourg. This process could take two years, and it’s possible that the journalist will have to spend the entire wait in a Russian temporary detention facility for foreigners.

On August 8, Moscow’s city court issued a ruling suspending the deportation of Ali Feruz. Roughly a week earlier, Moscow Basmanny District Court judge Arthur Karpov ordered the freelance journalist to be deported to Uzbekistan for violating Russia’s travel restrictions on foreign citizens. On August 4, Feruz’s lawyer, Daniil Khaimovich, filed an appeal with the city court, and the trial took place on August 7 and 8. During the second hearing, the judge questioned Feruz’s mother, Zoya Nurmatova, who said that her son lived with her and his brothers in the Altai region until 10th grade, when he left to study in Uzbekistan.

On August 4, the day Feruz’s appeal was filed in Moscow, the European Court of Human Rights prohibited his deportation from Russia. The ban remains in effect until the ECHR itself can review Feruz’s case and reach a decision on the legality of his deportation. Moscow’s city court then formally implemented the ECHR’s ruling. Earlier, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov defended the initial Russian verdict to deport Feruz, stating, “Let’s just say that the situation is very complex and several factors make it impossible to turn a blind eye to a number of violations that took place.”

In 2009, Feruz fled alleged persecution in Uzbekistan, traveling first to Kazakhstan and later to Russia. In 2012, the journalist says his Uzbek passport was stolen, and he then began seeking temporary asylum in Russia (his applications were rejected twice). “For more than three years, my status has been asylum seeker, and in all this time the Internal Affairs Ministry hasn’t said a word. The problems only started this year, in March, after I wrote a few articles about Uzbekistan, about the elections there. I think this is tied to my work as a journalist,” Feruz told Moscow’s city court.

Feruz says a “slow painful death” awaits him in Uzbekistan, if he’s forced to return. On August 1, hearing the judge’s decision to deport him, Feruz attempted to kill himself in the middle of the courtroom. In Uzbekistan, the journalist could face criminal charges for trying to recruit people to join “radical groups.”

Human rights activists and journalists rallied to Feruz’s defense. On August 7 and 8, as Moscow’s city court heard Feruz’s appeal, his supporters picketed outside the courthouse. The Novaya Gazeta newsroom sent a letter to Vladimir Putin, and the Presidential Council on Human Rights stated that Feruz’s deportation would violate the Russian Constitution, insofar as his mother and other close relatives are Russian citizens. The university Göttingen even announced that it would welcome Feruz, saying the International Committee of the Red Cross could facilitate his transfer to Germany.

Moscow’s city court ruled that Feruz will remain in a special temporary detention center for foreign citizens until the ECHR has reviewed his appeal, or until a Russian court has allowed him to leave state custody. The journalist’s lawyer told Meduza that ECHR’s review of Feruz’s case could last up to two years, adding that the Russian detention center isn’t so bad. “It’s not a spa, but it’s not a prison, either,” he said. While in detention, Feruz cannot use the Internet or leave the center’s grounds, though he is permitted to meet with close relatives and make occasional phone calls. “The main thing is that he won’t be deported right now,” his lawyer said, adding that he plans to challenge the ruling to keep Feruz in the detention center while the ECHR reviews the case.

Russian text by Evgeny Berg, translation by Kevin Rothrock