30 year-old Uzbekistan journalist Ali Feruz is on the verge of deportation from Russia, and risks torture in the Central Asian country
The journalist is homosexual - a crime in Uzbekistan - and has previously been beaten up by the Uzbek authorities
UPDATE: Following a decison of an appeal court in Moscow on Tuesday 8 August, the deportation of Ali has been suspended until a final decision by the European Court of Human Rights. Ali will be kept inside a deportation center in Russia until then
A Russian journalist from newspaper Novaya Gazeta is on the verge of deportation to Uzbekistan, where journalists and their families risk imprisonment and disappearance.
On 1 August, a Russian court ordered the compulsory deportation of 30 year-old Ali Feruz, who was previously tortured by the powerful Uzbek security services, the SNB.
His colleagues believe the deportation could put his life in danger because he is a journalist, a profession brutally suppressed in the Central Asian country.
Feruz is openly gay, and in Uzbekistan sex between men is illegal and can be penalised with up to three years in prison.
He is registered as an Uzbek citizen, but has made a life for himself in Moscow for the last six years.
His deportation is part of a ‘fast-track’ deportation measure, although the legal means allowing his appeal have not yet been exhausted.
Vladimir Putin himself has been solicited by Novaya Gazeta editor in chief Dmitry Muratov to prevent the deportation of Feruz.
An independent republic since breaking free from the USSR in 1991, Uzbekistan is southeast Asia’s most populous state - of 32 million people.
From 1991 until 2016, it was run by President Islam Karimov, and was known an authoritarian state where torture and arbitrary detention were widespread, and the media was under constant attack.
If journalists wrote critical investigations into the leaders and their entourage, they risked torture and imprisonment. If these journalists were outside the country, their families in Uzbekistan also faced reprisals.
Karimov even imprisoned his own nephew Jamshid, an investigative journalist, in a psychiatric facility, where he remained from 2006 until this year.
Since Karimov’s death, the new President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has made signals towards a thaw in media freedom and human rights.
But Mirziyoyev comes from the same elite as his predecessor and the power structures remain in place in a secretive country where the mighty security service, the SNB, is a powerful player within the state.
Ali Feruz is the pen name of Khudoberdi Nurmatov, who has written on hate crimes, LGBT and disability rights, and the rights of refugees from Central Asia.
Born in Kokand in the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic in 1987, Feruz’s mother is Russian and he graduated in Russia, only later acquiring Uzbek citizenship in 2004. In 2008, he married a Kyrgyz citizen, Dilafruz Shamshiddinova, and moved to Uzbekistan, where he fathered two children.
That year he was kidnapped by the security services, the SNB, who interrogated Feruz and forced him to hand over information about the political views of his friends who practised Islam.
The SNB also asked Feruz to work for them. After refusing to cooperate, the journalist was beaten by members of the SNB, who threatened to rape his wife and imprison him on false information.
He then fled to Kyrgyzstan, and then to Kazakhstan, before moving to Russia in 2011.
In 2013, he came out as gay, and broke up with his wife.
He has repeatedly been refused asylum by the Russian authorities, and in March 2017, the Russian police detained him for 12 hours on no charges. The police officers grilled him on the reasons for his application for shelter in Russia, and he was threatened with deportation to Uzbekistan.
There are cases where Uzbek asylum seekers - and even those with refugee status - disappear in Moscow and are later found in Uzbek prisons.
The staff at Novaya Gazeta fear that even if Feruz gains provisional asylum status in Russia, he could still be at risk of abduction and kidnap to Uzbekistan.
Every drug imaginable was available for a 21 year old with cash in his pocket in Russia’s capital
“I lived in Russia,” says 28 year-old Dimitri. “In Moscow I tried all the drugs there."
A resident of Chisinau, Dimitri is now recovering from a near-fatal operation that saw him lose his entire left jaw due to years of injecting a meth-like drug called Vint.
But he is feeling nostalgic for his two years spent in the Russian capital.
Working in a car wash, the 21 year-old Moldovan polished the bodywork and cleaned the insides of the status symbols of Moscow’s nouveau riche.
Pocketing up to 500 USD a day, he was ready to spend large on Russia’s huge clandestine drug market, every day sampling a new high.
“Everything is available in Moscow,” he says. “If you have money, you can buy any drug - you have a dealer and call him and he will work out what you need.”
Dimitri would meet his dealer for a drug swap in the corridors of Moscow’s vast underground train network.
“Because a lot of people are moving about there, it is the easiest place to meet as you can separate and disappear, so no one catches you,” says Dimitri.
Dealers drew up lists of hundreds of different types of drugs, imported from across the world and up for sale to Moscow’s spoilt youngsters and migrant workers with an appetite for stimulation, mind-alteration and escape.
“Before I had only tried vint, heroin and marijuana,” he says. “But now I could do speed, meth, LSD and a type of methadone that I could inject. Dealers brought GBH from England - a chemical spray you could squirt onto anything and then smoke. It’s a killer drug and gives you a feeling that you don’t have a body. When you wake up, you feel you have just woken up from a coma. I guess that’s why they call it GBH.”
Dimitri continued with his list, crossing off the drugs he had tried.
“There was also Spice, morphine, mushrooms, Krokodil, ten different kinds of ecstasy, Mitsubishi, Tears.”
He could even get hold of what he says was Ayahuasca - a bizarre plant brew favored by shamans in the Amazon basin.
“It’s the most horrible drug and I don’t want to try it again,” he says. “It’s very strong. It gives you such an understanding of different realities, but affects you for only five minutes. You feel like you have been in a different reality. It slows down times and transports you to another world.”
“Is it like LSD?” I ask.
“LSD is a joke compared to this,” he says. “I will show you on the computer the effect.”
I am not sure what he means.
Dimitri sits opposite a monitor, clicks onto YouTube. A video starts. A bearded traveller and a Latin American witch doctor drink from a wooden cup in a cave full of totems.
Computer-generated effects emerge. Cartoon fractal zooms spiral out from a cactus-like plant and twist in the manner of tentacles. The witch-doctor laughs at the foreigner, shouting at him in an indiscernable tongue - ‘Happa Dami Taha!’ - as he writhes on the floor.
Giant black insects bite and scratch at each other. I later find out this is a scene from a western starring Vincent Cassel called ‘Blueberry’, which flopped at the box office.
I am not that interested in the film.
“Yes,” I ask. “But tell me what you experienced?”
“This,” he says, pointing to the screen.
“But what did you see?” I ask. “What was your vision?”
He seems frustrated and is silent for a moment in his chair, watching the computer cartoon.
“It was exactly like this,” he says.
For the rest of Dmitri's story click on Deadly Moldovan drug provokes addicts to lose jaws