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Journalist facing deportation to Uzbekistan attempts suicide: lawyer

August 2, 2017

An independent journalist from Uzbekistan attempted to kill himself after a Russian court ruled to extradite him to his repressive homeland, his lawyer said Wednesday.

A Moscow court ordered late Tuesday that Khudoberdi Nurmatov, who writes under the pen name Ali Feruz for independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, be sent back to Uzbekistan for violating immigration laws.

Lawyer Daniil Khayimovich said that after the decision was announced Nurmatov tried to slash his wrists with a pen in the court building, shouting that he would “rather die than return to Uzbekistan”, Novaya Gazeta reported.

Khayimovich confirmed the account to AFP and said court bailiffs had pounced on Nurmatov to stop him.

Rights group Amnesty International on Wednesday — which called Nurmatov “openly gay” — demanded Russia overturn the ruling.

“Ali Feruz is openly gay, a human rights activist and a correspondent for the independent Novaya Gazeta newspaper,” Denis Krivosheev, Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International, said in a statement.

“This is a near-lethal combination for someone who is about to be handed over to Uzbekistan, where ‘sodomy’ is a crime and torture is endemic.”

Human Rights Watch deputy director Rachel Denber said Russia had an obligation to protect Nurmatov, “not send him directly into harm’s way.”

“Uzbekistan has a long and well-established record of torture, and there is little doubt that Nurmatov faces a serious risk if he’s forcibly returned there,” she added.

Another lawyer for Nurmatov, Fillip Shishov, told AFP that Nurmatov intends to appeal the order of deportation.

Nurmatov fled to Russia in 2009 and claims to have endured torture during a previous detention in Uzbekistan, according to Amnesty.

Russian authorities have refused to grant him asylum however, and accuse him of staying in Russia illegally.

Ex-Soviet Uzbekistan has shown some signs of opening up following the death last year of long-reigning strongman Islam Karimov, but the country traditionally figures near the bottom of global human rights indexes.

The country’s feared National Security Service also has a reputation for operating beyond the country’s borders and hounding activists on trumped up extremism charges.

The first article Nurmatov wrote under his ‘Ali Feruz’ pen name for Novaya Gazeta, in June 2014, covers the story of an Uzbek filmmaker Mirsobir Khamidkariyev who was reportedly “kidnapped” in central Moscow “by unknown people in civilian clothes”.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.