Novaya Gazeta reported police detained Khudoberdi Nurmatov, who writes under the pen name Ali Feruz, on Tuesday near its Moscow offices while he was walking to a school at which he was taking a singing class. Nurmatov’s friend, Pavel Gafarov, told the Washington Blade on Thursday during a telephone interview from the Russian capital that two plain clothed men asked the school’s director whether he was going to be there.
“He was evidently followed,” said Gafarov.
Novaya Gazeta reported Nurmatov, who was born in Russia, fled Uzbekistan in 2008 after authorities in the former Soviet republic kidnapped him from his home and “tortured” him because of his “political views.” Nurmatov, who has worked at Novaya Gazeta since 2014, has been trying to receive asylum in Russia for more than two years.
A judge on Tuesday ordered his deportation to Uzbekistan. Nurmatov reportedly tried to take his own life inside the courtroom, but bailiffs stopped him.
Novaya Gazeta reported Nurmatov has been beaten, Tasered and insulted with anti-gay slurs at the detention center outside of Moscow in which he is being held.
“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, on Wednesday 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.”
Nurmatov appealed the ruling. The Associated Press on Friday reported the European Court of Human Rights has halted his deportation.
Russia, which is a member of the Council of Europe, is a signatory to the European Convention of Human Rights that created the court. A law that President Vladimir Putin signed in 2015 allows Russia’s Constitutional Court to decide whether the country should comply with rulings from the European Court of Human Rights and other international judicial bodies.
Gafarov said a court is scheduled to consider Nurmatov’s appeal on Monday.
“Hopefully he will get some time to get this to the court,” Gafarov told the Blade.
Novaya Gazeta in April reported authorities in Chechnya, a semi-autonomous Russian republic in the North Caucuses, have arrested more than 100 men because of their sexual orientation since the beginning of the year. At least three of these men have reportedly died in custody, while others have been beaten and tortured and sent to secret prisons.
Chechen President Ramzam Kadyrov, who is a close Putin ally, has repeatedly dismissed Novaya Gazeta’s reporting. Death threats prompted a Novaya Gazeta reporter who broke the story of the anti-gay crackdown to go into hiding.
Nurmatov has not covered the anti-gay crackdown in Chechnya, but Gafarov told the Blade he made two Facebook posts about it the day before his arrest.
“I’m not so sure that was the reason he was detained,” said Gafarov.