Uzbek Businessman Faces Extradition from South Korea
The impending extradition of an Uzbek refugee from South Korea back to his homeland may test the new relationship of the two countries, as human rights groups raise concerns about his likely imprisonment and torture if returned.
Abdoolla Rabiev, an Uzbek businessmen residing in South Korea, is facing deportation back to Uzbekistan in three days, reports the Paris-based Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (Asie Centrale), in an e-mailed alert. Rabiev, 35, was arrested for the second time in a police raid of illegal immigrants; his lawyer fears he is not likely to be granted political refugee status, as his past appeals have been denied.
The reason cited by South Korean officials in the rejection of his appeal was that Uzbekistan supposedly has "well-functioning democratic institutions" to protect his rights, says Asie Centrale.
Rabiev originally fled persecution in Uzbekistan in 2001, facing accusations that he was part of the banned extremist Islamist group Hizb-ut-Tahir, a charge he denies. Eight of his family members have already been jailed on such allegations and have suffered torture to induce their confessions.
Unlike other immigrants who have fled Uzbekistan and are living illegally in South Korea, Rabiev came forward to appeal for refugee status. But if the South Korean government were to grant him the status, they would likely face demands for legalization from many other immigrants from Uzbekistan, says Asie Centrale.
Asie Centrale is calling on the United Nations to intervene, as the UN Convention Against Torture as well as the UN Refugee Convention forbid the return of persons who would likely face torture. The activists are also hoping South Korea's National Committee on Human Rights will intervene.
In the last year, South Korea has emerged as Uzbekistan's new best friend, EurasiaNet has reported, and that means Seoul may cave to demands from Tashkent.
Uzbek President Islam Karimov visited Seoul a year ago and met with South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak and various business leaders. Ignoring signs of trouble in the Uzbek economy, President Lee signed a $3.3 billion investment deal to build a petrochemical plant in northern Uzbekistan and explore oil fields with the Uzbek state oil company Uzbekneftegaz. South Korea also played a vital role in upgrading the Navoi airport for the U.S.-based Northern Distribution Network serving troops in Afghanistan.
The relationship has not been without its troubles. In October, Uzbek police and tax agents raided a South Korean-owned golf club for reasons that remain unclear, a move that was called "brutal and unfair" by Korean residents who were taking part in a golf tournament. Masked police stormed the club at 5:00 am on a Saturday and ordered 50 people to lie face down on the ground while they searched them and the buildings.
The incident was apparently smoothed over; there is too much business at stake. Rabiev's case risks being dealt with similarly.