As threatened, the Kazakh government has returned at least 28 Uzbek asylum-seekers to Uzbekistan, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported. The Uzbek government requested the extradition, saying the men were allegedly charged with terrorism and membership in extremist groups.
A spokesperson from the Kazakhstan Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed to HRW that 28 Uzbeks were handed over to Uzbek authorities today and said that the International Committee for the Red Cross and unspecified human rights groups would be able to meet with them. The status of the remaining 4 is not known.
Steve Swerdlow, Uzbekistan researcher for HRW, told Choihona that the mass extradition was "truly shocking" and set a "troubling precedent" for Kazakhstan and the whole region:
By returning people to near certain torture or ill-treatment, Kazakhstan has violated two of its most binding commitments under international law, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture, which both prohibit the return of an individual to a country where he or she faces a credible risk of torture. Kazakhstan’s international partners should condemn today’s forced return in the strongest terms, prevail on the Kazakh government not to allow any additional forced returns of the wives and children of the extradited men and those remaining in Kazakh custody. They should also demand immediate access to the extradited men in Uzbekistan to ensure their safety.
Vitaly Ponomaryov, the Central Asian researcher for the Russian human rights organization Memorial Society said in an e-mailed statement earlier today that when the wives and children of the imprisoned men gathered at the prosecutor's office in Almaty to find out about their relatives, they were told that the detainees had been moved. Most of them have been held for the last year in the investigation isolation cells of Kazakhstan's Commitee for National Security and the Ministry of Justice.
Police then detained several of the Uzbek women and prevented them from meeting with the prosecutor, and a cell phone conversation with one woman was cut off, said Ponomaryov.
Swerdlow also noted that in a separate development, the Uzbek Supreme Court held a final liquidation hearing today regarding Human Rights Watch office in Tashkent, which authorities slated for closure earlier this year when it refused to accredit the organization's staff. The hearing lasted only two hours, and the human rights organization was dissolved -- and even fined 24,000 soums (about $10). No legal representative of HRW was present because they had been denied visas.