Attorneys claim that the Security Service of Ukraine [then- SBU] works for the benefit of the security services of authoritarian regimes.
Recently, SBU detained prominent opposition journalists: Narzullo Okhunjonov, who is being pursued by the authoritarian regime of Uzbekistan and Fikrat Huseynov (Huseynli), who is being pursued by the Azerbaijani authorities. At the moment, there is a threat of their extradition to homelands, where the journalists will be imprisoned for long terms, in the best case.
However, Farzana, daughter of Narzullo Okhunjonov, is much more pessimistic. “If my father is deported to Uzbekistan, then he will live there for a maximum of three days. The authorities want to get rid of him, to shut him up, so they will surely kill him,” she says. According to the daughter of the journalist, special services of Uzbekistan have already confiscated her family’s homes worth $45 thousand, so even if Narzullo is not in danger of anything, there is no place to return.
At first, Narzullo, his wife and five daughters fled to Turkey, but there he was in danger of arrest at the request of the Uzbek KGB. When on September 20, the family got to Ukraine, it turned out that an international search warrant of INTERPOL was waiting for them here. Oleksii Fedorov, an attorney of Narzullo Okhunjonov, said that the journalist was accused of fraud in the homeland: the appropriation of $2,000. “It’s quite difficult to prove, but at the same time it’s easy to initiate such a case: any person writes a statement that a certain person has taken money from him/her and has not returned, and only on the basis of this statement a criminal case was initiated and an international search of the journalist was announced,” says Oleksii Fedorov. Interesting is that Narzullo Okhunjonov did not even know about this case.
The lawyer says that the Okhunjonov family was detained by the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine and transferred to a temporary detention center. Immediately, the entire Okhunjonov family wrote applications for refugee status. Everybody could do it, but Mr. Narzullo. According to Oleksii Fedorov, the border waited the whole month to transfer the journalist’s application to the State Migration Service. “In court sessions that began on September 23, we provided judges with examples of journalists’ publications about the illegal activities of the authorities in Uzbekistan, but Narzullo has not been released because, according to the judge, Ukrainian legislation does not provide any other preventive measures other than detention”, said the lawyer. This is especially strange, as the Kyiv City Prosecutor’s Office decided to release a journalist from custody.
For three weeks of Nazullo’s custody, he had almost completely lost his sight, because of the cataract of his left eye. According to the lawyer, this was also influenced by the conditions of detention in the detention center. “When we saw him in the prison, he did not even recognize me,” said Oleksii Fedorov. Finally, the journalist was fired, but only due to the intervention of many public activists and people’s deputies. One of the deputies was Refat Chubarov.
According to Borys Zakharov, head of the Advocacy Center of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group currently holds over twenty cases involving the forced extradition of dissidents. “For example, in the case of Narzullo Okhunjonov, we see that we need to change the legislation and provide alternative preventive measures for political refugees, such as a personal commitment, surety or mortgage,” Borys Zakharov said.
A similar incident occurred with the Azerbaijani journalist Fikrat Huseynov. His lawyer Dmytro Mazurok said that the political refugee is still detained. “Fikrat is a journalist, who entered into a conflict with the current government of Azerbaijan. He was kidnapped and tortured, threatening to kill him, if he did not stop investigations about the corrupt president’s family,” said the lawyer. In 2008, Fikrat was forced to leave the country, moved to Europe and in 2016 became a citizen of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. In Ukraine, he came to open a branch of the opposition satellite TV channel “Turan TV”, which is broadcasted in the territory of Azerbaijan.
Fikrat did not know that the authorities of his country of origin declared him to be wanted internationally through INTERPOL. He came to Ukraine and worked for some time here. On October 11, a message was posted in the INTERPOL’s database. Therefore, when Fikrat wanted to return, Ukrainian border guards detained him at the airport. The court ruled on the detention of a journalist for 18 days, and the Prosecutor’s Office has already demanded an increase of this term to 40 days. “We are very concerned about such a hot desire of the Ukrainian Prosecutor’s Office to help the Azerbaijani authorities to prepare the necessary documents. There is no need to extend the term of detention, and all this time the Ukrainian authorities will just wait until an extradition request from Azerbaijan comes,” said Dmytro Mazurok.
Borys Zakharov said that both journalists are supported by Reporters Without Borders and other international organizations. Currently, human rights defenders have prepared statements to the Ukrainian Prosecutor’s Office and the INTERPOL office in Lyon to stop the persecution of Fikrat Huseynov.
According to the human rights defender, SBU kidnaps political refugees and takes them to the border to be transferred to security services of other countries. “So, the Security Service of Ukraine had already transferred Aminat Babayeva, a refugee from Dagestan, to FSB. The same happened with VolodymyrYegorov, a member of the “Yabluko” party. He was denied political asylum. He was forced to move to Belarus, because our border guards on the order of SBU did not let him into Ukraine, and there he was arrested and taken to Russia. In SBU, this is called “escort”, but such practice is contrary to all the requirements of Ukrainian legislation. After all, any detention without a court decision is considered an abduction,” Borys Zakharov said.
Borys Zakharov claims that the Security Service of Ukraine informally cooperates with special services of authoritarian countries, former republics of the USSR. “The KGB still exists, SBU cooperates with FSB, and the special services of Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and others. A citizen of the Kingdom of the Netherlands Fikrat Huseynov noticed that he is pursued in Ukraine, and the information about him appeared at the INTERPOL’ database after the journalist came to Kyiv. Security services of other countries work through embassies and cooperate with SBU to punish their dissidents,” he says.
Dmytro Mazurok recalled that at the hearing the judge asked: “How will we resolve the issue with the extradition of Mr. Huseynov, if he is a citizen of the Netherlands, and in the documents of the request somehow stated that he is a citizen of Azerbaijan?” At the next court session, the judge received a message from the government Azerbaijan: “We suspect Fikrat Huseynov can use the passport of the Netherlands.”
“How did they know about it in Azerbaijan? In my opinion, this indicates a cooperation between SBU and the security services of Azerbaijan, which is obviously not in favor of political refugees,” says Dmytro Mazurok.
According to Borys Zakharov, even Russian volunteers, who are now fighting on the side of the Ukrainian Army, are in danger of extradition. “In order to prevent such situations, it is necessary to conduct a thorough extra-judicial investigation, that is, to determine if something is endangering a detained person in the country of origin, which has requested it by INTERPOL. Inspections should be based on reports from international human rights organizations, UNHCR explanations, reports from the US Department of State. Unfortunately, our State Migration Service often checks information on political refugees on the basis of reports from the Russian resource Lenta.ru or even conclusions from the text of the Constitution of the Russian Federation: because it states that Russia is a democratic country, and therefore it does not threaten refugees there. In general, our law enforcement system is designed to extradite a person at the request of another state, and the biggest opposition to human rights defenders is SBU,” said the human rights defender.
Borys Zakharov stressed that the SBU’s cooperation with the security services of authoritarian countries, such as FSB, does not contribute to greater security in Ukraine.
Prepared by Oleh Shynkarenko, especially for the Livyy Bereh
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