MOSCOW -- Journalists and free-speech advocates in Russia and around the world are speaking out in support of a journalist who has been ordered deported to the autocratic Central Asian country of Uzbekistan.
The liberal newspaper Novaya Gazeta, where the reporter works, called for a protest picket on August 3 outside the presidential administration building in Moscow, as statements of support poured in from around the world. The event and other support for the journalist were being organized under the social-media hashtag #ОтвалиОтАли (Hands Off Ali).
A Moscow judge on August 1 ordered that the journalist, who is known by the pen name Ali Feruz but whose real name is Hudoberdi Nurmatov, be deported to Uzbekistan after ruling he has been living illegally in Russia since 2011. Feruz was taken from the courtroom to a holding center for people facing deportation.
Defense lawyer Daniil Khaimovich told RFE/RL that they will appeal the verdict, arguing that Feruz has applied for political asylum in Russia and has the right to remain in the country until a decision is made.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on August 3 that the presidential administration "is aware of the existence" of this case but added it was impossible "to close one's eyes" to violations of the law.
Ali Feruz is openly gay, a human rights activist and a correspondent for the independent Novaya Gazeta newspaper. 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.”
Born in Soviet Russia in 1986, Feruz moved to Uzbekistan and took its citizenship at the age of 17. But he fled the country in 2008 after being tortured for two days for refusing to cooperate with the country's security services. He has gained a reputation in Moscow for his Novaya Gazeta coverage of the city's largely marginalized communities of migrant workers.
"He writes excellent pieces about refugees and migrants," Novaya Gazeta journalist Yelena Kostyuchenko told RFE/RL. "He knows several foreign languages very well, including Arabic, Uzbek, Tajik, Kazak, and Kyrgyz. This and his concern for people, his kindness, enable him to find a common language with almost everyone."
Kostyuchenko recalls that Feruz's first article for the paper was about an Uzbek citizen who was kidnapped by the Uzbek security forces in Moscow and spirited out of the country.
Novaya Gazeta Editor in Chief Dmitry Muratov issued a video appeal (below) on August 2, urging journalists to support his call for the Russian government to, at the least, allow Feruz to travel to a third country.
"I am sure that the federal authorities and the president will hear our position and will hear you, for which we are very grateful," Muratov said.
On August 3, responding to Novaya Gazeta's appeal to President Vladimir Putin, the advisory presidential human rights council said the court's ruling violates the Russian Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights, pledging "to make every effort to achieve a positive resolution of this problem."
A petition on the website Change.org urging the Russian government not to deport Feruz to Uzbekistan has garnered more than 5,000 signatures.
The Russian Union of Journalists issued a statement urging the court to change its ruling, taking into consideration that Feruz was born in Russia and his family lives there.
The independent Trade Union of Journalists and Media Workers has taken up Feruz's cause, organizing a series of one-person pickets at the presidential administration building since the case against Feruz began in March.
Former State Duma Deputy Dmitry Gudkov asked on Facebook on August 3, "Who has more rights to Russian citizenship?"
"He was born in Russia," Gudkov wrote about Feruz. "His family lives here. He speaks and writes Russian. He works for one of the major newspapers in the country."
He added that all of the Russian government's claims to support "the Russian world" beyond the country's borders amount to nothing more than "lies."
The Amnesty International human rights organization on August 2 issued a statement in support of Feruz, noting that he "is openly gay, a human rights activist, and a correspondent for the independent Novaya Gazeta newspaper."
"This is a near-lethal combination for someone who is about to be handed over to Uzbekistan," the statement said.
The organization launched an international campaign aimed to pressure the Russian authorities not to hand the journalist over to Uzbekistan.
The newly appointed representative on freedom of the media for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Harlem Desir, posted his appeal to the Russian government on Twitter.
Council of Europe human rights commissioner Nils Muiznieks on August 2 called on Russia to release Feruz and "to ensure that he is provided with all the necessary procedural safeguards" concerning his asylum application.
"It should be recalled that international law prohibits sending a person to a country where there are substantial grounds for believing that the person may be subjected to torture or ill-treatment," Muiznieks wrote.
Colleague Kostyuchenko told RFE/RL that Feruz described for her the circumstances under which he fled Uzbekistan.
"The Uzbek security services tried to co-opt him and force him to make denunciations against people in his town," she told RFE/RL. "He refused. So they tortured him for two days. They threatened him [and his family]. He told me: 'I understood on the second day of torture that they would not let me out alive.' So he agreed. They released him, and he fled the country."
"We know that even here in Russia, the Uzbek security services came to his mother...to his sister, to his brother in order to find out where [Feruz] was," Kostyuchenko said. "Uzbekistan is a totalitarian country where the prisons are completely opaque. People go there and simply disappear. We are afraid that he will be imprisoned and there he will be tortured and, in the end, killed."
Written by RFE/RL senior correspondent Robert Coalson on the basis of reporting by RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Natalia Dzhanpoladova