Fleeing torture, returned to torture: Uzbekistan to Russia, and back again
In June 2014, Mirsobir Khamidkariev, a young film producer from Uzbekistan, was abducted in broad daylight in the centre of Moscow city centre. He was sitting in a taxi, waiting outside a pharmacy for his wife and young son, when two men suddenly got into the taxi and forced the driver to speed away. Two days later he was flown back to Uzbekistan – the country he had fled in order to seek asylum – and tortured. To this day Mirsobir remains in jail. Mirsobir’s Russian lawyer, Illarion Vasiliev, tells his story.
The last time I saw Mirsobir he was just skin and bones. He was always thin, but he’d been a strong young man: confident, talkative, smart and cultured. Very likeable. But when I last saw him that day in court in Uzbekistan, he had aged.
Just months before, Mirsobir had been abducted in broad daylight. Russian security officers had taken him in Moscow and held him in a basement for two days. They then drove him to the airport and handed him over to the Uzbekistani Security Service on the tarmac, bypassing border control. He was flown to Uzbekistan, where he was beaten, hung upside down and had his ribs broken.
Desperation and a razor to the wrists
I’d first met Mirsobir the summer before. He was in detention - he’d been picked up by Russian officers who were threatening to return him to Uzbekistan, from where he’d fled, seeking political asylum. You cannot return people to Uzbekistan; international bodies have repeatedly said that detainees are tortured there. But Russia still returns people.
When Mirsobir heard there were Uzbekistani security operatives waiting outside, he cut his wrists with a razor.
I asked some strong guys to come with me to the detention centre: people are often abducted on release from detention in Russia and returned to Uzbekistan. Indeed, when I got there I noticed two young men at the entrance. They looked like typical security operatives. Mirsobir had also heard they were at the detention centre and in desperation, he cut his wrists with a razor.
There was blood everywhere, all over the cell. Mirsobir had to be bandaged up and from there he was taken to another police department and kept for two days. His wife and I followed, and we guarded him all day and all night. The whole time there were two guys sitting in a parked car outside the building. We watched them.
In hiding for months
Eventually Mirsobir was released and went back into hiding in Moscow with his wife and baby. But he had no freedom. Russian Security Service officers came looking for him several times. On one occasion they came to his apartment. He managed to hide and they didn’t find him. The second time they came to the restaurant where his wife worked. Mirsobir hid behind a curtain and watched as the officers talked to his wife for over an hour. She threw them off-course by telling one of them she had split up with Mirsobir. Of course they found him eventually.
As long as Mirsobir is remembered and talked about abroad, he will not be killed. And perhaps he will not be tortured.
I like to defend political refugees like Mirsobir. Often asylum-seekers don’t speak Russian, they have no money, no shelter and no documents. And most importantly, no future. That’s why your pressure on the government is very important. The Russian and Uzbekistani authorities want to look good in front of their foreign partners, regardless of the outrageous things they do to their citizens.
Amnesty activists, you are all doing a great job. As long as Mirsobir is remembered and talked about abroad, he will not be killed. And perhaps he will not be tortured.