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Activists plead Russia for mercy after Uzbek journalist attempts suicide ahead of deportation

A Russian court has ordered a reporter back to his native Uzbekistan, from where he fled in 2008 after claiming to have been tortured. The independent journalist reportedly tried to end his life in the court building.

An Russian-born Uzbek journalist attempted suicide after a Moscow court ordered his extradition to Uzbekistan on Wednesday, his lawyer told journalists.

Khudoberdi Nurmatov, also known as Ali Feruz (pictured above), writes for the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta. The court ordered he sent back to the repressive central Asian nation for violating immigration laws.

After the decision was announced Nurmatov tried to slash his wrists with a pen in the court building as he shouted that he would "rather die than return to Uzbekistan," his lawyer Daniil Khayimovich told Novaya Gazeta, state news agency RIA Novosti and French news agency AFP.

Court bailiffs reportedly pounced on Nurmatov to stop him.

Read more: Media freedom in a downward spiral

Rights groups condemn ruling

Human rights group Amnesty International demanded Russia overturn the ruling.

"Ali Feruz is openly gay, a human rights activist and a correspondent for the independent Novaya Gazeta newspaper," Denis Krivosheev, Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International, said in a statement.

"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."

Read more: One of world's longest-jailed journalists released after 18 years in Uzbekistan

Nurmatov was born in Russia and moved to Uzbekistan at the age of 17. He fled from the country in 2008 after he was arrested and tortured by security forces, rights groups said. He came to Russia in 2011 and unsuccessfully attempted to claim asylum.

According to Human Rights Watch Nurmatov covered issues such as hate crimes, migrant workers' rights, and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Established history of torture

Human Rights Watch deputy director Rachel Denber said Russia had an obligation to protect Nurmatov, "not send him directly into harm's way."

"Uzbekistan has a long and well-established record of torture, and there is little doubt that Nurmatov faces a serious risk if he's forcibly returned there," she added.

Read more: What is to be expected from Uzbekistan's new president?

Nils Muiznieks, the commissioner for human rights for the Council of Europe, which runs the European Court of Human Rights, demanded that Nurmatov be released from detention and granted legal safeguards.

"States have a duty to ensure a safe and enabling environment for the work of human rights defenders and journalists, and to protect them from reprisals," he wrote in a statement shared on Twitter.

"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."

Another lawyer for Nurmatov, Fillip Shishov, told AFP that he would appeal the order of deportation.

aw/jr (AFP, AP)

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