Russia/Tajikistan: Stop deportation of Tajikistani migrants expelled solely for taking part in peaceful protest

The Russian government must immediately stop the deportation of at least 17 Tajikistani nationals detained during a peaceful protest in Moscow on 2 April against the suspected rendition of a fellow countryman, Amnesty International said today.

The detained Tajikistani nationals, mostly migrant workers, had taken part in peaceful protests against the forcible return to Tajikistan of Izzat Amon (also known as Izatullo Kholov), a prominent migrants’ rights activist, lawyer and the head of the Moscow-based human rights centre Tojikon. The protest took place in front of the Embassy of Tajikistan.

“The Russian authorities must immediately stop helping their counterparts in Tajikistan to facilitate illegal forced returns. In the absence of due process individuals are denied their right to challenge their return, based upon a fear of persecution by the Tajikistani authorities due to their participation in peaceful protests,” said Maisy Weicherding, Amnesty International’s Central Asia Researcher.

The Russian authorities must immediately stop helping their counterparts in Tajikistan to facilitate illegal forced returns
Maisy Weicherding, Amnesty International’s Central Asia Researcher

Some of the protesters reported threats from Tajikistani diplomats, including pressure on their family members in Tajikistan and demands that the protesters publicly denounce the protest and Izzat Amon. They were also told that they would be charged with terrorism-related crimes in Tajikistan if they failed to comply.

“The Tajikistani authorities regularly use blackmail and threats to intimidate their citizens living abroad. It is by now a sad and familiar tactic, to intimidate critics overseas by threatening the health and well-being of their loved ones, using violence against their children and their elderly parents and detaining them arbitrarily,” said Maisy Weicherding.

The Tajikistani authorities regularly use blackmail and threats to intimidate their citizens living abroad
Maisy Weicherding, Amnesty International’s Central Asia Researcher

“By aiding and abetting forcible returns, the Kremlin is complicit in putting at risk the fates of over a dozen men, who could face criminal prosecution on terrorism-related charges, merely for protesting against injustice.”

Izzat Amon had lived and worked in Russia since 2009 and had Russian citizenship. He was detained by police in Moscow on 25 March, “disappeared”, and reappeared in the Tajikistani capital Dushanbe two days later. Officially, he was expelled from Russia to his country of origin for violating the rules of stay in the country and illegally obtaining Russian citizenship.

However, Amnesty International is concerned that he was abducted by Russian police and handed over to the Tajikistani authorities in a rendition operation. According to supporters, Amon managed to contact a friend to inform them of his detention and asked them to post a pre-recorded video message addressed to Russian President Vladimir Putin. In the video Amon said his Russian passport had been revoked at the “order of the Tajikistani authorities” and he expressed fears of being abducted and forcibly returned to Tajikistan.

“For years, the Russian authorities have been complicit in returning people to Tajikistan and other Central Asian countries, where they risk torture and other ill-treatment. The Russian authorities keep doing this brazenly,” said Maisy Weicherding.

Background

According to Russian police watchdog OVD-Info, police arrested more than 100 participants of the protest. Most of them were accused of violating Russia’s unduly restrictive legislation on assemblies and fined between 10,000 to 15,000 roubles (US$130–200). Several were in addition accused of petty hooliganism. At least 25 were also tried for violating migration regulations; of the latter at least 17 are known to have been sentenced to expulsion.

Amnesty International has repeatedly called on Russia to put an end to abductions and forcible returns as these are in blatant violation of the country’s human rights obligations. The principle of non-refoulement prohibits states from returning a person to a state where there is a real risk that they will be subjected to torture and other grave human rights violations and is absolute. Russia is a Convention against Torture signatory since 1987, Tajikistan since 1995, and both countries must abide by their consequent obligations.