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France illegally deports refugee to Uzbekistan

France illegally deports refugee to Uzbekistan
Photo: Mukhsinjon Akhmedov (right) at a detention centre in Uzbekistan on 15 November 2023 - photo from Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA)
France illegally deports refugee to Uzbekistan
Photo: Mukhsinjon Akhmedov (right) at a detention centre in Uzbekistan on 15 November 2023 - photo from Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA)

On 15 November 2023, French authorities deported 39-year-old Mukhsinjon Akhmedov to Uzbekistan where he is at risk of torture and politically motivated imprisonment, the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA), International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC) said in a statement today. The forced return of Akhmedov to Uzbekistan violates the absolute principle of non-refoulement and is a blemish on France’s human rights record, the organizations said. Following the return of Akhmedov to Uzbekistan, the French Constitutional Court ruled that his deportation to Uzbekistan was carried out illegally.

Law enforcement officials in France detained Akhmedov, who had resided in France for years, on 20 October and placed him in a detention centre for foreigners. He was wanted by Uzbekistani authorities for charges of “attempts to the constitutional order”[i], provisions which are frequently used in cases of politically motivated persecution in Uzbekistan.

Three weeks after Akhmedov’s detention, French authorities deported him to Uzbekistan on 15 November. His forced return took place despite the real risk that he will be subjected to torture and other ill-treatment in Uzbekistan where such treatment remains a widespread problem – reportedly, at least twelve people have been tortured to death in Uzbekistani detention facilities in the last three years. Because of the risk of torture and ill-treatment, in March of this year the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) adopted interim measures to prohibit Akhmedov’s forced return to Uzbekistan.

Following the forced return of Akhmedov to Uzbekistan, the French Constitutional Court for Administrative Cases, the Conseil d’etat, ruled on 7 December, that his “removal to Uzbekistan, in violation of the interim measure prescribed by the European Court of Human Rights, constitutes a serious and manifestly illegal attack on a fundamental freedom”. The court also ordered the Minister of the Interior and Overseas Territories and the Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs to implement all useful measures as quickly as possible to enable the return of Akhmedov to France at the expense of the French state. In addition, the Constitutional Court ordered the French state to pay Akhmedov EUR 3000 in compensation.

When Akhmedov arrived in Uzbekistan on 15 November, he called his mother from Taskhent International Airport telling her not to worry. However, law-enforcement agencies detained him shortly thereafter and transferred him to a detention facility in the city of Kokand. Following his forced return, Uzbekistani authorities have brought additional charges against Akhmedov – he is now charged with production and dissemination[ii] of materials containing a threat to public security and public order, and smuggling[iii] and risks up to 20 years’ imprisonment.

At the time of writing of this press release, Akhmedov’s lawyer had not been granted access to the materials of the criminal case. He was however able to meet his client in detention, and during this meeting Akhmedov told him that he has not been tortured in detention so far. However, the severity of the charges against him as well as his prior history with torture in Uzbekistan places him at serious risk of torture and other ill-treatment in Uzbekistan.

Akhmedov first found himself in the crosshairs of the Uzbekistani authorities in 2015 – during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan of that year, police raided his home one early morning and confiscated his cellular phone along with several audio discs before they placed him in a detention centre in Kokand. Akhmedov later told the AHRCA that police claimed to have found a video on his confiscated phone showing a speech by Tahrir Yuldashev – a now-deceased former leader of the illegal group Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Akhmedov claims the officers themselves must have planted the video on his phone. He also told AHRCA that police held him for almost three days at this time and subjected him to regular torture and death threats while trying to force him to incriminate himself and admit to membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir. Hizb ut-Tahrir is another Islamic group banned in Uzbekistan, distinct from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Akhmedov denied all of the accusations which he claims are unfounded.

When he was released in 2015, Akhmedov went to a medical institution to have the signs of torture on his body recorded before submitting a complaint to the prosecutor’s office about torture by the police officers.  His complaints however, did not lead to the perpetrators of torture being brought to justice. Due to the severity of the accusations against him, he decided to leave Uzbekistan and fled to the Russian Federation in 2016. While in Saint Petersburg, Russia he learned that Uzbekistani authorities had declared him internationally wanted on charges on attempts to the constitutional order. Fearing that Russian authorities would return him to Uzbekistan, he left Russia for Estonia where he spent 18 months in a deportation camp. Eventually, an Estonian court ruled to release him and he was granted a work permit. However, in late 2018, he learned that his asylum application had been rejected, and, once again fearing forced return to Uzbekistan, he left Estonia for France in 2019 where he resided until his forced rendition to Uzbekistan in November 2023.

The organizations issuing this statement are highly concerned about Akhmedov’s safety at the hands of Uzbekistani authorities. We fear that he will be subjected to torture and other forms of ill-treatment in pre-trial detention and later in prison and that authorities will violate his rights to a fair trial and give him a decades-long prison sentence on bogus charges. We support the key points of the ruling of the Conseil d’etat and call on the Government of the French Republic to take any steps necessary to secure the safe return of Akhmedov to France, and to implement measures to prevent any similar breaches of the principle of non-refoulement in the future.

[i] Article 159 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan: Public statements to unconstitutional change of the existing state order, assumption of power, or removal of legally elected or appointed authorities from power, or to unconstitutional impairment of integrity of the territory of the Republic of Uzbekistan, as well as dissemination of materials containing such statements (…).

[ii] Article 244-1 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan: Production or keeping with the purpose to dissemination of materials that contain ideas of religious extremism, separatism, and fundamentalism, calls for pogroms or violent eviction, or aimed at creating a panic among the population (…).

[iii] Article 246 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan: Smuggling, that is carriage through the customs border of the Republic of Uzbekistan without the knowledge of or with concealment from customs control, or with using false documentation or means of customs identification, or jointed with non-declaration or with declaration under false name of virulent, poisonous, toxic, radioactive, explosive substances, explosive assemblies, armaments, firearms, or ammunition, as well as narcotic or psychotropic substances, or materials that propagandize religious extremism, separatism, and fundamentalism (…).

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