Rights groups say Russia deports political refugees

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MOSCOW, Sep 26 (Reuters) Russian human rights groups today accused law enforcement agencies of hunting down and illegally repatriating Uzbek and Chinese political refugees.

Moscow-based Memorial and the Civic Assistance Committee said the Federal Security Service (FSB), the domestic successor to the KGB, was using the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation to create a unified search list for treaty-member police agencies.

''Russian special services over recent years have sharply activated their cooperation... to forcibly hand over citizens who have fled because of repression,'' the report, released today, said.

''In the last two years, religious and political refugees from Uzbekistan living peaceably on Russian territory for 8 to 10 years have been actively hunted and sent back,'' said Elena Ryabinina, Memorial's Central Asia refugee aid director.

Many of those refugees left Uzbekistan in the early 1990s, Ryabinina said, to avoid persecution by authorities who were intent on repressing a resurgent Muslim civil society under the guise of hunting down terrorists.

Ryabinina also said Russian authorities had begun extraditing members of China's 'Falun Gong' as part of the single-search list for SCO member states.

A spokesman for the FSB declined to comment.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation -- which includes Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan -- has boosted its purview in recent years to include drug interdiction, joint military exercises and energy talks.

The report documents the case of Alisher Usmanov, who in 2005 was illegally stripped of his Russian citizenship by authorities in Kazan. He was later abducted and sent back to Uzbekistan to serve an eight-year prison sentence.

Later in 2005, police in Ivanovo, near Moscow, rounded up a group of Uzbek immigrant businessmen and took them to a police station, where, according to local and international media accounts, Uzbek authorities awaited them with cattle prods.

The Ivanovo Uzbeks were never charged with a crime in Russia, though a day after their detention documents from Uzbekistan arrived accusing them of murder, conspiracy to overthrow the government and terrorism.

''The 'Ivanovo Uzbeks'' handover to Uzbek law enforcement authorities was prevented only with the help of the European Court of Human Rights,'' said Ryabinina.

REUTERS JK PM1717

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