Four suspected Uzbek Islamic radicals arrested in Kazakhstan were asylum seekers and their deportation would violate international law, a United Nations refugee official said Tuesday. The four men had applied for refugee status with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees office in Kazakhstan earlier this year, fearing prosecution at home on religious grounds, and decisions on their cases are pending, said Narasimha Rao, UNHCR official in this Central Asian nation.
Rao said the UNHCR was in contact with the Kazakh government, trying to prevent the four men's extradition to Uzbekistan.
"We hope the Kazakh government will respond positively as they have done in several cases in the past," Rao told The Associated Press. Uzbekistan has been recognized by the U.N. as a country where torture is being routinely used in places of detention. Under international anti-torture and refugee conventions, Uzbeks who are at risk of prosecution at home cannot be extradited.
Earlier this year, Kazakhstan, citing its international obligations, refused to hand over an Uzbek rights activist who had fled fearing prosecution for his eyewitness accounts of troops shooting civilians during a May uprising in the Uzbek city of Andijan.
The four were among nine Uzbeks arrested by the Kazakh security service in the southern city of Shymkent last week, according to the Moscow-based Memorial rights group.
Among the nine was Rukhitdin Fahrutdinov, 38, former imam of a mosque in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, who topped the list of suspected Islamic extremists wanted by Uzbek authorities.
Fahrutdinov was a suspected leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a militant group allegedly behind the bomb attacks in Tashkent in 1999 and several armed incursions. He wasn't among the four asylum seekers, Rao said.
The Kazakh security service's regional branch on Tuesday refused to disclose any information on the arrested Uzbeks, reports the AP. N.U.