“Unseeable forces” don’t let Ali Feruz leave Russia
“Novaya Gazeta” knows, why he is so needed by the Uzbek National Security Service
Vlad Dokshin / Novaya Gazeta
The very first text Ali Feruz wrote for our newspaper, - “A refugee from Uzbekistan kidnapped in the center of Moscow”. It was about Mirsobit Kjamidkariev, an Uzbek movie director, who had flown the country. He worked as a taxi driver in Moscow. Then, his 8-month-old daughter fell ill, so he had to take his wife and her to a hospital. And he vanished. In his text, Ali describes the technicalities of such dissapearances: “after such kidnappings people mostly go missing without a trace, but the majority find themselves back in Uzbekistan, where they are subjected to tortute: they are beaten, splashed with boiled water, their nails are pulled out”. The text was horrifying. Ali opened the door to the new old world – where Russian Federal Security Service and Uzbek National Security Service exchange “heads” in a streaming mode, with no official papers involved.
Ali speaks many languages: Uzbek, Kazakh, Tadjik, Arab, English, Turkish, Kirgiz, Tatar and Farsi. This is a precious trait of his. However, what’s more important, he can communicate with anyone, with no exception. He can do both, talk to a criminal authority and to a government authority, to nationalists and to janitors. He hears the people.
When languages weren’t enough, he changed his life. He spent a week in a wheelchair, going around the renovated Moscow, to experience it himself. He laid bricks with the workers in the Moscow summer heat of 30 degrees Celcius. He celebrated New Year with the homeless.
Over a year and a half ago he became the author of some brilliant articles. Possibly, his most famous one is about a fire in one of Moscow typographies. All of the news outlets reported the number – 17 women dead. More often it was «17 migrants». But Ali named them all, returning them their faces and stories.
He understood journalism in a broader sence. He never left the characters of his stories. Once he wrote about a mother of three, Altinoi Azizova, held with her children in a detention center. Then he kept sending them parcels, calling the Ministry and made their return to their homecountry possible. After working on a construction site in Moscow, he discovered that the workers have no drinking water. His anger was contagious and soon we organized water deliveries. Now, while in the Temporary Detention Center for Foreign Citizens, he found out that many are kept in the same clothing they were first brough in, although it’s extremely cold in the cells. So, two trucks with warm clothes were sent to the jail for the migrants, an issue that we would’ve never been made aware of, if not for him.
Ali was terribly worried because he couldn't visit his mother, who lives in Ongudai village, in the Republic of Altai. It's where Ali graduated from a Russian school. The thing is, he had the money to buy a ticket. But he had no passport. Ali called his mother every day and saved money for her to have an eye surgery: her eyesight was degenerating rapidly. This May his mother came to Moscow herself, for her birthday. Ali proudly introduced her to us, while she was telling him off for his “painted” (tattoed, - A.M.) hands. He just nodded, making her tea. She kept saying: “Don’t praise him too much!” And then did it herself.
(Later, after he was detained, she would ask: “For what? Is that because of the tattoes? Or because he smokes? He can’t even fight.”)
Ali had a habit of cutting his hair short. We used to mock him, until he explained that back in Uzbekistan he people would drag him around his cell by his hair. When he talked about what he had been through, he had a light smile on his face. He didn't want to scare us. He was scared himself, and always acknowledged that, most likely, he always be will. «I rather die than go back». We thought is was a metaphor but it wasn't after all.
Of course, “Novaya” supported Ali in the process of making new documents. We really wanted to employ him yet we couldn’t. We ran a background check – and found no “dark past”. Unfortunately, by then he already gotten a rejection for getting the status of a refugee. So, we applied for the status of a temporary refugee, addressing Vladimir Kolokoltsev, the domestic affairs minister, and Vladimir Putin, asking for their assistance. At some point we felt like something was happening: the rejections were cancelled, the case was sent for revision. Unofficially, we were told that the only issue was that Ali had no passport, and if he did – it would all be different. He lost it in 2012, and it’s impossible to make a new one without going back to Uzbekistan. Yet, we believed that our government has enough power and mercy to solve such a bureaucratic problem.
On March 16 Ali was arrested right by his house. He managed to call his colleagues and say: “They waited for me”. He was taken to the Presnya court, where he spent more than 12 hours with no charges being presented. In an hour from when he was arrested the court was surrounded by Ali’s friends and colleagues. We feared that he may vanish. No lawyers, no Public Monitoring Committee members were allowed to visit him. The police kept asking Ali why he needs refugee status: “What are you afraid of?” According to the police, there were members of the Federal Security Service participating in the interrogations. There were a few people in civil clothing present, too, who didn’t introduce themselves in any way. They spoke in Uzbek to one another. Then Ali was informed that he will be deported straight from the court.
As the evening approached, Ali had a high fever. The Public Monitoring Committee, who were let in after all, called the ambulance, which decided to hospitalize Ali. He was transported to an infectious diseases hospital, and then they just let him go.
But we realized that this was our «first warning», and things were about to get serious. What we didn't realize is how serious.
This August Ali signed up for vocal classes. Back in Ongulai he was told that he simply can't sing. But it turned out to be false, and Ali was the happiest. The music school was right near «Novaya's» office. 500 metres by foot. They waited for him there.
We drove to the Basmanny court, they took him there. They quickly made the case.
Few hours later the Basmanny court decided to deport Ali to Uzbekistan.
While the lawyer was preparing the documents, Ali grabbed a pen and attempted to slice his wrist. Bailiffs held him down. Later, in the police escort car, he was beaten and electricuted with a stun gun. This happen on August 1. Then, on August 4 the ECHR prohibited the deportation according to the «Rule 39». It prevents the government from taking any action that can harm the applicant – and for Ali the deportation is synonymous with death.
On August 8 the court of Moscow established that until ECHR reviews Ali's case, he will be detained in the Temporary Detention Center for Foreign Citizens.
He has been there for four months now.
Ali truly wants to stay in Russia, to work here in «Novaya». And we know this for sure because we've been through this bureaucratic hell with him, knocking on the closed doors. The thing is, ECHR might get to Ali's case in a year or two, and until then he will be kept in the Temporary Detention Center for Foreign Citizens. Which is still a jail, even though it has better facilities.
For several months, lawyers, friends and "Novaya" worked on preparing exit documents for Ali. We reasoned as follows: the Russian court decided to deport him to Uzbekistan, since he violated the country's migration legislation and must leave it. However, the court did not forbid Ali to voluntarily leave for a third country. And we decided to take advantage of this, particularly as in pervious similar cases there has been this possibility.
The International Red Cross gave him a loess pass — a paper with which he could cross the border. One of the European countries agreed to accept him and made a visa. The Russian Foreign Ministry sent a paper stating that our country has no reason to prevent Feruz from leaving. Copies of all documents were transferred to the bailiff service, and here we are faced with an unforeseen circumstance. The bailiff service (the Moscow office) refused to release Ali, referring to a letter from Deputy Minister of Justice Mikhail Galperin, in which he forbade the bailiffs to deport Ali before the decision of the ECHR.
Such letter does indeed exist. In August, when the Russian court made the decision about the deportation, the Deputy Minister of Justice, knowing how the information circulates within the Bailiffs Service, tried to prevent the inevitable. But we weren't able to explain to the bailiffs that the Deputy Minister hadn’t prohibited them from releasing Ali if he wanted to leave Russia on his terms. So, we contacted the Ministry of Justice, which quickly realized the absurdity of the situation and sent another letter with clarifications to the bailiffs.
It was October 7. The week after the bailiffs presented the new conditions. The thing is, the complaint about Ali receiving a refusal to grant the refugee status had already been moving around in judicial echelons for a long time. The bailiffs demanded the decision of the appellate body regarding this case on paper. But, practically, they knew that to get the paper one has to waste a few more weeks. Thus, we realized: the bailiffs were simply inventing excuses not to release Ali. The question is why?
The police left without making a protocol, however, they said that we're good to go. Unfortunately, words don't matter when it comes to court cases.
The situation is now monitored by the Commissioner for Human Rights in Russia, Tatyana Moskalkova. She met with the head of bailiff services, Dmitry Aristov, and seemed to get all of the answers that we needed. We began preparing for Ali's departure. The tickets were bought for Friday, November 3. However, just before the departure, the bailiffs suddenly remembered another circumstance that does not allow them to release Ali: it turned out that the prosecutor's office was not properly notified! So, even if we sent them a letter by mail, it would have taken no less than a few more days.
By now it's tragic comedy. What will they require next? A certificate of vaccinations? Or the consent of the Housing Cooperative?
And yet, in a day, the question was solved over the phone, and we were preparing to go to meet Ali at the gates of the Temporary Detention Center for Foreign Citizens. Then, at 10 pm, a few hours before the departure, lawyers called: Ali is not going anywhere.
They sent us the paper signed by the Deputy Chief Bailiff of the Moscow Department of the Federal Service of Court Bailiffs M. Kuksa. She said:
- «To suspend the enforcement for the proceedings fully until the circumstances that served as grounds for suspension of enforcement proceedings have been removed, for the reason the execution of the judicial act, the act of another body or official in the administrative violation case may be suspended by the court, other body or official issuing the executive document, and in the manner established by federal law».
This decision isn't simply impossible to protest, it is impossible to even read! It seems like the bailiff simply folded the words of a legal focus into one bunch, without caring about the complete absence of meaning. But we understand that through this mockery, someone is trying to tell us: we will not release him, because we will not release him. But who? What is this secret power that overcomes the will of the Ministry of Justice, the Foreign Ministry, the Human Rights Ombudsman and many other state agencies directly involved in the life of Ali Feruz? Who in Russia can afford this in order to meet the specific interest of Uzbek special services? It seems that the answer is obvious.
That night, Ali called us. He was ill, but kept holding on. Now, it is clear to all of us: these people have a reason for allowing him to buy tickets and pack up, they had a reason to cancel it, too.
They wanted to hurt him. Torturing is their specialization, and they're good at it.
And yet. We did not intend to give up. Then, something great happened: Tatyana Moskalkova began fighting with us for Ali. Soon after the first attempt of departure, the head of the Main Department for Migration of the Russian Interior Ministry, Olga Kirillova, and the Human Rights Ombudsman Tatyana Moskalkova met to discuss ways to overcome the delinquency of the bailiffs and to legitimise opportunities for Ali's voluntary departure from Russia. And they had an idea, based on the same logic as before: the ECHR imposed a ban on the deportation of Ali — but not on his voluntary departure. The Migration Service received all the necessary explanations of it’s leader, Olga Kirillova.
The next attempt of departure was November 22. The tickets were bought, the authorities were notified; representatives of the Ombudsman's Office were preparing to accompany Ali to the airport. Then, on November 16, the migration service, head of which is Olga Kirillova, decided to keep Ali in Russia. They came to the «Novaya's» office. Funny enough, we learned about the inspection not because of the police on our doorstep — but when the REN-TV channel informed it’s viewers that there was a search carried out at the «Novaya Gazeta». Half an hour prior to the actual search.
The police left without a protocol. They said: everything is in order. But words, as is known, are not sewn to business.
Late in the evening on November 21, Ali Feruz was taken to the Basmanny District Court, where he was convicted for illegal labor relations with Novaya Gazeta, based on the results of the inspection. He was sentenced to a fine and — again — to deportation.
Therefore, departure of Ali on November 22, of course, did not take place.
Throughout these days we were in touch with the migration service officers who were following Ali's case. They assured us that everything was going according to the plan we agreed on. Suddenly, on the day of the trial, they stopped responding to our calls. They did not answer the next day either, until finally one of Olga Kirillova's deputies openly said: well, there is no way to fulfill the guarantees given from above! However, employees of the Basmanny District Department of the Migration Service do not want to violate the decision of ECHR.
We have no doubt as to who is behind this brutal combination, because — how many forces capable of bending the state so unceremoniously are there?
Ali became the subject of a conflict between Russian and Uzbek special services.
The Federal Security Service wanted to give him to the Uzbek services — as a broad gesture, or in exchange for another service. And when the owners agree, there is nothing to blame them for the law and the will of the state. Of course, we did our best to find out why the Uzbek National Security Service is trying to snatch Ali out of the hands of it’s Russian colleagues so desperately. Yes, he refused to cooperate, but almost ten years have passed since then, and they didn't look for him! So, why did they start now? It seems that one of his texts prompted the hunt.
Ali is a civil journalist: he wrote about people. Politics interested him only in the social dimension. But he wasn't able to ignore the elections of the new Uzbek president, held at the end of last year. He did a series of interviews and then wrote an article. It was called: «Slaves for a day worked at polling stations". "A slave for a day" is an employee who does the «dirtiest» work. This is the only way to survive in Uzbekistan in conditions of widespread unemployment and total lawlessness. Ali himself was a «slave for a day», and now his father is. Ali wrote about Andijan after the protesters were shot: "the city was half-empty, there were traces of bullets on the walls of the gray five-story buildings. Authorities were in the streets, each visitor was interrogated: to whom you came, why you came and when you will leave. The dead were buried in silence and with no tears, their relatives hiding behind the walls of their houses. In those days there was a rumor among the people that «grandfather» was seriously ill, he did not have much time left, let's wait a little longer and everything will end. The new president Shavkat Mirziyoyev received more than 87% of the votes — 5 % less than Karimov received in the worst of his days. Of course, to show that someone's result is superior to the results of «the teacher» is not appropriate for Uzbeks. But these 5% unequivocally say that Mirziyoyev is a good student. He will continue to follow Karimov's path with dignity. And in the next six years my sister will remain a slave for a day. I will stay in Russia»
We ask everyone, who can help us with saving Ali, for support:
We ask the ECHR to find a possibility to review Ali’s case as soon as possible.
We ask Tatiana Moskalkova to keep supporting us and looking over this situation.
And, most importantly, we ask our colleagues to spread the infprmation about Ali’s case. It’s our obligation to save him.
(By Anna Muratova and Ekaterina Pilipenko)