Belarus wants to expel to Russia a refugee from Chechnya, who risks being tortured there

Яна Гончарова
16 August 2017

The man from Chechnya asked for refugee status in Belarus. He was refused and now Belarus wants to expel back to Russia.

On 4 April 2017, Zelimkhan (note: the name is changed, the real name is known to our organisation), a citizen of the Russian Federation who lived in the Chechen Republic, approached the office of Human Constanta’s assistance-to-refugees Mission in Brest (Belarus). He explained that he arrived in Brest on 21 March 2017, and until 29 March 2017, he traveled eight times to the Polish border checkpoint “Terespol” to ask for asylum in Poland, but the Border Guard officers did not allow him to do that.[1] Zelimkhan also recounted that for the last 15 years he was illegally detained multiple times and that he was tortured during these detentions. Along with that, Zelimkhan mentioned that he had heard from other refugees that Chechen security services were looking for him in Brest.

On the same day, Mission’s lawyer prepared for Zelimkhan a motion for asylum in the Polish language for filling at the border checkpoint “Terespol”. On 5 April 2017, around 07:00, Zelimkhan tried to leave Belarus and to travel to “Terespol”, but the Belarusian border guards prevented him from doing this. Furthermore, they annulled an exit stamp put up a few minutes before in his passport, and about 40 minutes interrogated him. After that, Zelimkhan was released.

The same happened on 6 April. However, that time after Zelimkhan was not allowed to leave Belarus, a man who introduced himself as a lawyer spoke to him. The man said that next time Zelimkhan would not have problems with departure.

On 13 April, in the building of the Brest Central station, in the customs control room, Zelimkhan was detained by the Belarusian border guards while he was trying to pass passport control.

As has become known later, on 5 April 2017, Zelimkhan was put on the interstate wanted list by the Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia for the city of Grozny (note: Chechen Republic) as a suspect, who allegedly committed a crime stipulated in part 2 of Article 208 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation*.

On 13 April, the Department for Citizenship and Migration of the Department of Internal Affairs of the Leninsky district of Brest made a decision to detain Zelimkhan and to expel him forcefully. According to this decision, Zelimkhan shall be kept in a Temporary Isolation Ward until the moment of expulsion.

On 20 April, Zelimkhan applied for refugee status or subsidiary protection in Belarus. Accordingly, the execution of the decision on expulsion was suspended for the period of the application determination.

At the same time, Zelimkhan appealed against the decision on his expulsion to Russia, inter alia, referring to the fact that, upon his return to Russia, he would be transferred to Chechnya, where he would be tortured again. The first instance, the Department of Internal Affairs of Brest Region Executive Committee, found no violations in the decision on expulsion. That is why Zelimkhan filed a complaint with the Leninsky district Court of Brest requesting to annul the decision on expulsion.

On 5 and on 15 August, two hearings on this case took place. During the hearings, Zelimkhan told that in Chechnya he was illegally detained multiple times and brutally tortured. He also claimed he was frightened to return to Chechnya because of danger to his life and to the lives of his relatives. During the hearing, the representative of the Department for Citizenship and Migration did not comment on Zelimkhan’s allegations that he risks being tortured upon his expulsion from Belarus. The representative did not provide any information disputing these allegations.

On 16 August, the court dismissed Zelimkhan’s appeal. According to the court’s decision, the reasons for the applicant’s departure from Russia are of no significance in the context of considering his appeal against expulsion.

During the process, disturbing facts were revealed. The representative of the Department for Citizenship and Migration stated that he was in contact with representatives of the Chechen security agencies, who were interested to know the time of Zelimkhan’s arrival in Russia. At the same time, the representative of the Department for Citizenship and Migration refused to disclose the name of the contact person in Chechnya. In addition, during the court hearing it was announced that a criminal case against Zelimkhan had been initiated on 5 April 2017 at 17:50, and his card had been added to the interstate wanted list on 6 April. In this light, the grounds of denial of Zelimkhan’s departure from Belarus on 5 and 6 April remain unclear.

According to Human Constanta, the decision on Zelimkhan’s expulsion should be canceled. International human rights standards prohibit the use of torture in all circumstances. This prohibition imposes on states the obligation not to expel any person to a third country if this person reasonably claims that he or she could be tortured there.

During the court hearings, Zelimkhan convincingly told about the past episodes of torture and provided credible and objective information about the human rights situation in Chechnya. In Human Constant’s opinion, the court after having considered all this information should have become convinced that in case Zelimkhan would be expelled to Russia he would face a real risk of being tortured again.

Our organization will continue to monitor Zelimkhan’s case.

Contacts for additional information:

You can obtain detailed comments via tel. +375-(29)-370-45-56 (Human Constanta’s Mission in Brest) or via e-mail bresthc@gmail.com

*part 2 of Article 208 of the Russian Federation Criminal Code: “Participation in an armed formation that is not stipulated by a federal law, as well as participation in an armed formation on the territory of foreign state that is not stipulated by the law of this state, and for purposes contrary to the interests of the Russian Federation, shall be punishable by deprivation of liberty for a term from eight up to fifteen years with restriction of liberty for a term from one up to two years.”

[1] For nearly a year, the Polish Border Guard has systematically violated the procedure of accepting applications for asylum. The Polish Border Guard does not accept such applications at its own discretion or claims that no one asks for asylum (our report on the situation in Brest).

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