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Kazakhstan Extradites Uighur Journalist

Kazakhstan - Demonstrators in Almaty protest extradition of Uighur journalist Arshidin Israil, 28May2011.
Kazakhstan - Demonstrators in Almaty protest extradition of Uighur journalist Arshidin Israil, 28May2011.
Arshidin Israil, a Uighur refugee from China and a contributor to Radio Free Asia (RFA), RFE's sister organization, was extradited on May 30 from Kazakhstan to China, where he faces charges of terrorism. In court documents, Israil wrote that he believed the charges were politically motivated, issued by the Chinese government in response to his reporting for RFA on Uighur protests in western China in 2009.

The case has elicited criticism from human rights organizations that accuse Kazakhstan of ignoring its international commitments to refugees and knowingly surrendering Israil to likely abuse in China. As reported by RFE's Kazakhstan service, Israil's case may also have suffered numerous legal irregularities.

Israil's lawyer, Iurii Stukanov, told RFE that on 30 May, at 8:00 pm, two Chinese procurators and one Kazakh procurator went to his prison cell and transferred him to Chinese custody.

Stukanov says he never saw a copy of the extradition order. He requested a copy of the decision on May 31, but was denied. Israil's relatives told RFE they also were given no documentation of the decision at the time of the extradition. They received a communique from the prison on June 3 that Arshidin Israil "had been previously detained," implying that the extradition order had been executed.

Israil's relatives also claim that he was deprived of the chance to appeal the extradition decision. Through his lawyer, he had protested the earlier ruling by the Kazakh migration service to refuse him refugee status, filing appeals at every possible jurisdiction. On May 29, his lawyer prepared an appeal against the extradition order, but Israil was extradited the next day, apparently without it having been considered.

In his appeal document, Israil insisted on his innocence and claimed that the terrorism charges were punishment by Chinese authorities for his reporting about deadly protests in Urumchi in 2009. In other communications during his detention in Kazakhstan, Israil described making several calls on his mobile phone to RFA during the Urumchi events. After these calls, agents with the Chinese special services arrested his brother and two friends. He fled China and crossed the border to Kazakhstan.

The Almaty office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) granted Israil refugee status in the fall of 2009. The Swedish government extended him a resettlement offer in early 2010, but Kazakh migration police detained him and put him under house arrest. In the succeeding months Israil has written, he was subject to conversations, interrogations and "lie detector" tests by agents from numerous Kazakh law enforcement organs.

In a statement issued last week, Freedom House, the international human rights watchdog, expressed outrage at Israil's treatment and Kazakhstan's defiance of international obligations regarding refugees.

"It is unacceptable that a person who has been accorded refugee status by the UNHCR should be forced to return to a country where he is likely to face harsh treatment and possibly torture,” said David J. Kramer, Freedom House's executive director. “The Kazakh authorities have an international obligation to grant protection to those who seek refuge in their country and it has shamefully shirked its duty."

Freedom House also questioned the UN's passivity in light of Kazakhstan's flouting of the UN mandate, adding, "The UN should further investigate Mr. Israil’s case and reform its own procedures to more fully protect refugees from these types of situations in the future.”

Reported by RFE's Kazakhstan service.