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Turkmen blogger who applied for asylum in Russia deported to Turkey accompanied by police

Turkmen blogger who applied for asylum in Russia deported to Turkey accompanied by police

At Sheremetyevo Airport, he was handcuffed and told that he could appeal the refusal to grant refugee status later.

Throughout yesterday, there were reports related to the case of Turkmen blogger Rozgeldy Choliev, who applied for refugee status to the Russian authorities upon arrival at Sheremetyevo Airport on March 2, 2021.

Recall that initially the employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Border Service, contrary to the law, refused to accept Choliev's application for asylum. Only after appeals from human rights activists from different countries to the leadership of the Border Guard Service, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Commissioner for Human Rights in Russia and the UNHCR office on March 9, an unknown employee of the migration service accepted his application for refugee status, promising that in three months it would be issued solution.

However, on March 18, border guards unexpectedly told Choliyev that the migration structure of the Ministry of Internal Affairs was working “too slowly,” but that their department (Federal Security Service) had the opportunity to speed things up in order to “help the refugee.” On the same day, they again accepted Choliev's application for refugee status. The next day, he was interviewed by the head of the refugee department of the Migration Department of the Main Directorate of the Ministry of Internal Affairs for the Moscow Region, Police Major Dmitriy Shulepov. The interview was conducted without the participation of a lawyer and an interpreter (Choliev does not speak Russian very well).

Yesterday, Choliev said that in the morning there were employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs next to him, who answered his questions: “We are waiting for a decision on you.” At about 1 pm, the blogger was handed a notice signed by Shulepov about the refusal to “examine on the merits” of the application for recognition as a refugee, dated March 22. The document noted that the refusal could be appealed within a month. However, five minutes later, the blogger recorded a video that he was being taken to a plane flying to Istanbul.

Further details of the events became known only after Choliev's arrival in Turkey. In an audio message received by the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, it is said that in Sheremetyevo, in order to suppress possible resistance to deportation, a group of people surrounded the blogger, handcuffed him and escorted him to the plane. He spent the entire flight in handcuffs, the police flew to Istanbul with him.

In Turkey, after talking with seconded Russian security forces, local border guards said they could not let the blogger through the border, as he did not have a certificate of the results of the analysis for COVID. As an alternative, they offered either a return to Turkmenistan, or a departure to a country for entry into which such a certificate is not required. The options from Cambodia to Nicaragua were previously named, while the list of countries visa-free for citizens of Turkmenistan is very small. Choliev's offer to be tested for COVID at Istanbul Airport was rejected for unknown reasons. “It didn’t fit” and his consent to fly to Georgia, since test results are also required at the entrance.

Choliyev was informed that a representative of the Turkmen consulate was already at the airport to “take care of his case,” but the diplomat was not allowed into the transit zone.

After the appeal of human rights activists to Turkish lawyers, it turned out that he could still pass a COVID test at the Istanbul airport, after which the issue of his admission to Turkey would be decided.

As of 13:00 p.m., it is known that Choliev passed the test and remains in the transit zone awaiting the results.

At the time of publication of the release, an unconfirmed report was received that the COVID test gave a negative result and Turkish border guards let Choliyev into Istanbul. The blogger himself has yet to be contacted.

The Choliev case, which touches upon the position of Russian agencies on the issue of respect for certain fundamental human rights, has attracted public attention.

According to «Chronicles of Turkmenistan», on March 21, famous mixed martial arts masters Zabit Magometsharipov and Magomet Ismailov from Dagestan and Karachay-Cherkessia arrived at the airport to support the Turkmen activist. Athletes learned about Choliev's story from messages on the Internet. Border guards, police officers and airport staff approached the athletes to take pictures with them and get autographs.

An example of a different position was the actions of Maksat Saparmuradov, a former intelligence officer known as the founder of the Russian-Turkmen Friendship Society "Compatriot", associated with the Embassy of Turkmenistan. Saparmuradov contacted «Memorial» last week saying that he would go to the airport to help Choliyev. However, as follows from his recent video message, on March 18, the border guards convinced him that Choliyev was in favorable conditions, that «Aeroflot» was allegedly servicing him, so instead of helping the asylum seeker, Saparmuradov wrote a statement to the police against him.

It is worth noting in this regard that during the three weeks that Choliev was in Sheremetyevo, all Russian government agencies, including those responsible for working with refugees, refused to take any part in resolving issues of his food, accommodation, access to fresh air, etc.

In general, Choliev's case became the subject of active discussion in the Turkmen segment of the Internet. These discussions took on a particularly emotional character after Choliev's critical statements about the statements and promises of some foreign Turkmen opposition figures.

Vitaliy Ponomaryov, Director of the Central Asian Program of the Human Rights Center «Memorial»

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