Russian Homeland No Haven For Ex-Detainees, Activists Say
Sunday, September 3, 2006
KAZAN, Russia -- Timur Ishmuratov is back in prison, his fourth stretch in three countries since he crossed into Afghanistan in early 2001 looking, his family says, for the perfect Islamic society.
Now 31, Ishmuratov grew up in western Siberia and, by the time he left university, felt he could not live as a Muslim in Russia. Eventually, he turned to the austere rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan. "He said to me that Afghanistan was the only place where a true Muslim life was possible," said his mother, Zoya Ishmuratova. "He said the country was not influenced by European culture, that women dressed properly."
In 2001, after U.S. forces attacked the Taliban in response to the hijackings of Sept. 11 that year, he was caught in a roundup of foreigners by anti-Taliban forces and turned over to Americans. He spent two years in the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Flown back to his homeland on Feb. 27, 2004, with six other Russians, he's now in a jail here.
What these men did in Afghanistan remains unclear. All of them say they went there on religious quests and were not fighters, but there is no way to corroborate their stories. One still carries a bullet in his leg from his period in the country. U.S. authorities, in the end, did not have enough evidence to hold them.
Since returning to this country, human rights groups contend, Ishmuratov and other former Guantanamo inmates have been harassed, physically abused and prosecuted by authorities here in a campaign to lock them up for the long term.
In May of this year, Ishmuratov, a slight man now shorn of his beard, was sentenced to a long prison term on charges of sabotaging a gas pipeline in a town southeast of here in Tatarstan, a majority-Muslim republic in central Russia. Human rights groups say there are credible accusations of torture leading to forced confessions by Ishmuratov and the two other men tried with him.
The fate of the Guantanamo prisoners, activists here say, calls into question not only the rule of law in Russia but also U.S. responsibility under international conventions not to return inmates to countries where they face the threat of torture.
"The U.S. government has failed these men three times," said Carroll Bogert, associate director of Human Rights Watch, the New York-based advocacy group, which is studying the fates of the former Russian inmates. "First, by detaining these men without charge at Guantanamo, then by sending them back to Russia in violation of international law because they faced the real threat of torture, and third, by failing to monitor and protest their treatment."
The U.S. Embassy in Moscow declined to comment on the men. But in a statement it said that "in all instances, the United States seeks assurances that countries will treat their detainees humanely. The United States does not return individuals to their home countries when it is more likely than not that they will be tortured.
"Diplomatic assurances are only one part of the equation, however," it said, "and all facts are taken into consideration. The decision to return a detainee to their home country is based on the totality of the circumstances. Diplomatic assurances are not a substitute for this analysis."
Russian prosecutors reject allegations of mistreatment and said that in the case of Ishmuratov, his guilt was proven in court, albeit in a second trial. A first jury found him and the two other defendants not guilty.
"They are religious fanatics," said Farit Zagidullin, deputy prosecutor in Tatarstan, whose office prosecuted Ishmuratov in the pipeline explosion along with former Guantanamo inmate Ravil Gumarov, 43, and another alleged accomplice, Fanis Shaikhutdinov, 41. "They want to inflame the situation in Tatarstan, where people of all religions want to live in peace with each other."