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Russian human rights activist Vitalii Ponomarev deported, barred over report on religious persecution, torture

(HRW/IFEX) - The following is a 27 February 2009 Human Rights Watch press release:

Kyrgyzstan: Reverse Ban on Human Rights Defender

(Bishkek, February 27, 2009) - The Kyrgyz government should reverse its decision to bar Russian human rights defender from visiting Kyrgyzstan, Human Rights Watch said today.

On February 26, 2009, Vitalii Ponomarev, director of the Memorial Human Rights Center's Central Asia program, was deported to Russia upon his arrival at Manas airport in the capital, Bishkek, and declared persona non grata. Ponomarev's deportation comes one month after he published a report about religious persecution and torture in Kyrgyzstan.

It was the second time in five months that the Kyrgyz authorities refused entry to a human rights defender.

"Instead of driving out human rights defenders the Kyrgyz government should be open to scrutiny of its human rights record," said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "More scrutiny, not less, will lead to positive change in Kyrgyzstan."

Early on the morning of February 26, a border official at the airport passport control told Ponomarev, a Russian citizen, that he was considered "political" and that he would not be allowed to enter the country. When Ponomarev arrived back in Moscow, he was given a deportation document stating, in Russian and English, that he was persona non grata.

Neither the document nor the border officials claimed irregularities with Ponomarev's documents. A Kyrgyz border service official told a Radio Liberty correspondent that Ponomarev's deportation was ordered by the Kyrgyz State Committee for National Security and that he was barred from entering the country for five years.

Ponomarev told Human Rights Watch that throughout the 10 years that he has been doing human rights research in Kyrgyzstan the authorities never made any allegations of unlawful activity against him.

Ponomarev's work in Kyrgyzstan has focused on documenting religious persecution against those deemed Islamic "fundamentalists" and on the plight of refugees from Uzbekistan.

In January 2009, Ponomarev published a report on the crackdown against alleged Islamic "fundamentalists" in southern Kyrgyzstan, which started in October 2008. The report documented torture, arbitrary detention, unfair trials, and unjustified interference with freedom of beliefs by the authorities.

"There seems to be little doubt that the authorities banned Ponomarev because of his human rights work," said Cartner. "This only sends a message that they have something to hide."

Kyrgyzstan's measures taken against human rights defenders are contrary to the standards set out in the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which not only requires states to respect and support the work of human rights defenders, but also reminds states that they have obligations to take all necessary measures to ensure everyone is protected against any retribution resulting from his or her legitimate exercise of their rights.

In October 2008, Kyrgyz authorities denied entry to Ivar Dale, a Norwegian who represented the Norwegian Helsinki Committee in Bishkek, and barred him from Kyrgyzstan for 10 years. The Kyrgyz State Committee for National Security claimed that Dale had violated Kyrgyz migration law, even though several months prior, a Kyrgyz court had dismissed such charges against him.

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Kyrgyzstan, please visit:

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