NEW YORK—The Russian authorities must overturn the decision to deport journalist and asylum seeker Khudoberdy Nurmatov, who writes under the pen-name Ali Feruz, to Uzbekistan, where he is likely to face persecution and torture, PEN America said in a statement today.

Feruz, a correspondent for independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, was born in Uzbekistan and has spent most of his life in Russia. He returned to Uzbekistan briefly, but fled following kidnap, detention, and torture by the Uzbek secret service in attempts to coerce him into becoming an informant. According to the court testimony of Novaya Gazeta reporter and colleague Elena Kostyuchenko,  he said “on the second day [of detention] I realized that I will not leave here alive,” and so agreed to their demands, and fled the country upon his release. Feruz has not had an Uzbek passport since 2012 after it was stolen, for fear of reprisals upon application, which would require returning to Uzbekistan. He has applied several times for asylum in Russia, and was appealing the denial of refugee status when the Moscow court ordered his deportation based on alleged “violation by a foreign citizen of the rules of entry into the Russian Federation or the regime of stay in the Russian Federation.”

Elena Kostyuchenko, reporter of Novaya Gazeta, testified at the court: “On September 28, 2008, employees of the National Security Service of Uzbekistan kidnapped Ali from his home. They wanted him to report on his political views to his acquaintances. Ali refused. Two days he was tortured: he was severely beaten, stuck needles under his fingernails, and left him forever in jail. He told me: on the second day I realized that from here I will not leave alive. He agreed to their demands, and when he was released, he fled the country”

Because he is openly gay and works for an independent newspaper, Feruz is at heightened risk of facing persecution in Uzbekistan, where homosexuality is illegal and human rights abuses are rampant. After the decision was pronounced by the court, according to his lawyer Feruz attempted suicide. The deportation order has been met with outrage from Russian and global civil society groups, including the Russian Union of Journalist, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International.

“The decision to deport Ali Feruz to Uzbekistan following numerous applications for asylum and refugee status is nothing short of cruel, putting him at imminent risk of torture and persecution, and has sent a chill across the Russian media space,” said Polina Kovaleva, PEN America Free Expression Programs Manager for Eurasia. “We urge the Russian authorities to consider the threat to Ali Feruz’s safety and reverse the deportation order.”

PEN America has previously raised concerns about the closing space for free expression in Russia, noting that members of the press are at particular risk of harassment and persecution.

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world.  Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

CONTACT: Sarah Edkins, Director of Communications: sedkins@pen.org, +1 646.779.4830