Cablegate: Free at Last? Ivanovo Uzbeks Win at Echr

DE RUEHMO #3736/01 3590614
R 240614Z DEC 08




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1. (U) Summary: Since their June 2005 arrest in connection with
violent unrest in Andijan, 13 ethnic Uzbeks have been in limbo,
caught between the threat of refoulement to Uzbekistan and an offer
of refugee status in Sweden. In a decision announced December 15,
the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) cited the risk of ill
treatment in Uzbekistan in ruling against Russia, which had sought
to extradite the 13 to stand trial in their homeland. The ECHR
judgment awarded 15,000 euros to each in little more than symbolic
recognition of more than three years of confinement, ostracism, and
penury in the Russian provincial city of Ivanovo. Whether Russia
will comply with the Court's judgment remains an open question. End

2. (U) Refcoord visited Ivanovo, a city of 400,000 some 300
kilometers northeast of Moscow, December 16-17 to promote NGO
referrals to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. Refcoord's host,
lawyer Svetlana Martynova, a participant in the March 2008
International Visitor Leadership Program "Strengthening Legal
Protection and Efficiency in Migration Policy," arranged a meeting
with three ethnic Uzbek refugees. These were among the applicants
in the case of Ismoilov and Others v. Russia that originated before
the ECHR in 2006 to prevent the men's refoulement.

Ivanovo Uzbeks Fight Refoulement

3. (U) The individuals, including Ilhomjon Ismoilov, who came to be
known as the "Ivanovo Uzbeks" arrived in Russia at various dates
between 2000 and the beginning of 2005. After the unrest in Andijan
in May 2005, they were arrested in Russia at the request of Uzbek
authorities, who suspected them of financing insurgents. Although
the applicants denied any involvement in the Andijan events, and an
inquiry conducted by Russian authorities seemed to corroborate their
statements, Russia commenced extradition proceedings against them.
The "Ismoilov" applicants claimed that their extradition to
Uzbekistan would expose them to danger of ill treatment. They also
lodged applications for asylum, reiterating their fears of torture
and persecution for political motives. They supported their
submissions with reports prepared by UN institutions and
international NGOs describing the ill treatment of detainees in
Uzbekistan. The Russian authorities rejected their applications for
refugee status and ordered their extradition to Uzbekistan.

4. (U) The ECHR ultimately found that the Ivanovo Uzbeks had fled
persecution on account of their religious beliefs and successful
businesses. Some of them had earlier experienced ill-treatment at
the hands of the Uzbek authorities, and others had seen their
relatives or business partners arrested and charged with
participation in illegal extremist organizations. In its decision
on the applicants' appeal to the ECHR, the Court took note of
UNHCR's grant to them of mandate refugee status. The April 2008
judgment concludes:

"The Court is well aware of the immense difficulties faced by States
in modern times in protecting their communities from terrorist
violence. However, even in these circumstances, the Convention
prohibits in absolute terms torture or inhuman or degrading
treatment or punishment, irrespective of the victim's conduct. . .
.In these circumstances, the activities of the individual in
question, however undesirable or dangerous, cannot be a material

On December 19 the applicants learned that this judgment in their
favor had become final upon the Court's rejection four days earlier
of the Russian Federation's request for referral to the Grand

Lives on Hold

5. (U) The Ivanovo Uzbeks spent nearly two years in detention
following their initial arrest, a "deprivation of liberty. . . not
circumscribed by adequate safeguards against arbitrariness,"
according to the ECHR. They won release in March 2007 but continued
to reside in Ivanovo, as Russia refused to grant them exit
permission to move to Sweden, which based on UNHCR referrals had
offered them refugee status. Four of them were joined by their
families, but the others could not afford to move their relatives to
Russia. Together the 13 settled in to a hardscrabble existence,
surviving on meager UN assistance and odd black market jobs while
their case worked its way through the Council of Europe's human
rights machinery.

6. (U) In the 1990's and early 2000's the men had run businesses
that sold fabric, towels, work clothes and furniture. (Note:
Historically, Ivanovo was the capital of Russia's textile industry,
importing cotton from Uzbekistan; however, its economy has gone into
steep decline, succumbing to competition from Asia since the
break-up of the Soviet Union. End Note.) The notoriety of their
arrest and imprisonment, along with government seizure of their

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assets, effectively ended their careers as entrepreneurs.
Occasionally they could pick up work as laborers at construction
sites, but for the most part they survived on rental subsidies and
the dollar a day for food that UNHCR could afford to grant them. It
was difficult to find apartments they could afford and landlords who
would accept them, particularly as their faces were familiar to many
in the city from television news stories about "terrorists."

One Country's Terrorist, Another's Refugee

7. (U) Refcoord visited one of the men, 47-year-old Mahmud
Rustamhodjaev, at his home in a rundown apartment block on the
outskirts of Ivanovo. Rustamhodjaev moved to Ivanovo from Andijan
in 2001. He used to return to Uzbekistan to visit his family, most
recently in March 2005. He is married with three daughters - the
youngest born while he was incarcerated - and a son born after his
release. After his release from Russian prison, his wife and
children came to join him. The family rents a spare but pleasant
and well-heated two-bedroom apartment. The fifth-floor walk-up
costs 12,000 rubles (about U.S. $480) a month, of which UNHCR covers

8. (U) Life for Rustamhodjaev's family is lived in a narrow frame,
constricted by both poverty and uncertainty about the future. His
wife rarely leaves the apartment because she does not speak Russian.
The temporary registration she received when she first arrived in
March 2007 was only for three months, and in order to renew it she
would need to leave Russia and return, something the family cannot
afford. Without valid documents, she is vulnerable on the street to
arrest and deportation. Mahmud, fluent in Russian, works illegally
as a night watchman and occasional truck driver, and he does the
family's shopping.

9. (U) The couple's nine-year-old daughter is going to school in
Russia for the first time this year. Earlier the school would not
accept her because she could not speak Russian. Rustamhodjaev had
to pay a tutor 150 rubles (about U.S. $6) an hour for the girl's
first year in Russia in order to bring her to a level where the
school would accept her. Fortunately the tutor also helped the girl
to keep up with her academic subjects, so she started school at
grade level. To pay for the tutoring and all the other expenses not
covered by his meager UNHCR stipend, Rustamhodjaev borrowed money
from his mother in Uzbekistan and brother and sister living in
Russia. He is 60,000 rubles (about U.S. $2,400) in debt, money he
hopes to pay back if he ever receives the 15,000 euros that the ECHR
says Russia must pay him.

10. (U) Restitution hopefully will come soon. The neighbors have
been saying they do not like the noise made by Rustamhodjaev's
children, and he may need to find new shelter. Neighbors' nuisance
complaints are sometimes racism in disguise, but Mahmud says he
would rather live even with Russian xenophobia than face return to
Uzbekistan. And while there were only about 20 Uzbeks in Ivanovo
when he first immigrated, now there are several thousand, as well as
an ethnic community association called Zemlyachestvo Uzbekov.
Mainly, Rustamhodjaev said, he wants to live peacefully and work
legally, with an end to all the litigation and uncertainty.

No Closure as Yet

11. (U) The ECHR's December decision concluded the Ivanovo Uzbeks'
litigation, but uncertainty remains. Irina Sokolova, counsel for
the 13, is not predicting whether the Russian Government will pay
the ordered restitution and permit the men's departure to Sweden.
She told us December 23 that she plans to meet with officials after
the New Year's holiday to discuss execution of the Court's


12. (U) The Ivanovo Uzbeks (and their legal battle for recognition
and protection) are uncommonly renowned, but their life on the
margins of Russian economic and social life is typical of refugees
here. Septel will report on Afghan refugees in Ivanovo.


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