Return to Uzbekistan Could Mean Death for Gay Reporter in Russia

Khudoberdi Nurmatov
Khudoberdi Nurmatov via Facebook

A gay journalist’s deportation from Russia to Uzbekistan, where he likely faces persecution, has been halted for now, but his future remains uncertain.

The European Court of Human Rights Friday stayed the deportation of Khudoberdi Nurmatov, who writes under the pen name of Ali Feruz, until it can review his case, the Associated Press reports.

Nurmatov, who writes for the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, was arrested Tuesday on his way to a music lesson in Moscow, on charges that he had violated immigration law, the Washington Blade reports. A few hours later, he was before a judge, who ordered his deportation to Uzbekistan. Nurmatov attempted suicide outside the courtroom — the means has not been reported — but was stopped by bailiffs.

He has been jailed near Moscow ever since, and there he has been beaten and tasered, in addition to being taunted with antigay slurs, the Blade reports, citing Novaya Gazeta.

He faces worse, however, if he has to return to Uzbekistan, which he escaped in 2009. “If he goes back to Uzbek prison, he will not come out alive,” friend and Novaya Gazeta colleague Yelena Kostyuchenko told The Daily Beast.

The European Court of Human Rights review could take up to six months, a lawyer for Nurmatov told Novaya Gazeta. The court has given him until the end of September to file a new refugee application, and the Moscow City Court is scheduled to hear an appeal of the deportation order Monday.

Nurmatov lived in the closet in Uzbekistan; he was married to a woman and had two children. Many of his friends were devout Muslims, and Uzbek authorities arrested him in 2008, trying to torture him into spying on these friends and others suspected of connections to an Islamic extremist group. “They stuck needles under his fingernails, dragged him around the floor by his hair, threatened to rape his wife,” the Beast reports, also citing Novaya Gazeta.

He eventually said he would be an informant, but once released he fled the country, first to Kyrgyzstan, then to Kazakhstan, and finally to Russia. He has reported his case to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and applied for refugee status, which he did not receive.

It was later that he came out of the closet and divorced his wife. If he had told the U.N. he was gay, it would have helped his case for refugee status, a friend told the Beast. “If only originally he asked UNHCR for protection as an LGBT activist, he would have been fishing in California right now,” said Svetalana Gannushkina, chairperson of the Civic Assistance Committee, a human rights group in Russia.

Amnesty International has called on Russia to overturn the deportation order. “Ali Feruz is openly gay, a human rights activist and a correspondent for the independent Novaya Gazeta newspaper,” said Denis Krivosheev, deputy director for Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International, in a press release. ‘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.”

“In spite of overwhelming evidence of the risks of torture and other human rights violations that Ali Feruz would face in Uzbekistan, the judge still ruled that he should be deported,” Krivosheev added. “This utterly erroneous decision contravenes the absolute prohibition of torture and must be immediately overturned.”

Nurmatov is not the first Novaya Gazeta reporter to be persecuted in Russia. It’s the publication that first reported on the detention, torture, and murder of gay and bisexual men in the semiautonomous Russian republic of Chechnya. The reporter who broke that story received death threats and has gone into hiding, Nurmatov’s friend Pavel Gafarov told the Blade.

Nurmatov has not reported on the situation in Chechnya — his stories have focused largely on the plight of Uzbek refugees — but he had recently posted on Facebook about Chechnya, Gafarov said. “I’m not so sure that was the reason he was detained,” Gafarov told the Blade.

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