An openly gay journalist for a Russian investigative newspaper has appealed to a court to grant him refugee status in a bid to avoid deportation to Uzbekistan for migration violations.
Ali Feruz has worked in Moscow since 2011 for the Novaya Gazeta newspaper, where he has reported on hate crimes, the rights of migrant workers and discrimination against LGBT people.
Feruz, whose real name is Khudoberdi Nurmatov, is an Uzbek national and fled Uzbekistan in 2008 after he was arrested and tortured by security forces, who tried to force him to become an informant, according to Human Rights Watch.
Homosexuality is illegal in Uzbekistan and the country has been widely criticized for its abysmal human rights record. Novaya Gazeta has condemned the decision by a Russian court to deport Feruz.
"We think that there is a threat to his health and life in Uzbekistan. He has been tortured and threatened there already. We know, sadly, of a few cases when people who have been extradited to Uzbekistan just went missing. No one knows whether they are alive or what has happened to them," Nadezhda Prusenkova, a spokesperson for the newspaper, told CNN.
In August, Feruz was picked up by Russian police on his way to work at the paper. He was then taken to Basmanny court in Moscow where a judge ruled he had broken Russian migration legislation and ordered him to be deported to Uzbekistan.
Feruz said he was abused after he was taken from court, according to an administrative memo published on the Novaya Gazeta website. In a statement, he said he was handcuffed with his hands behind his back, beaten and shocked with electricity by a prison officer.
The Russian state news agency TASS reported that when Feruz arrived at a temporary detention center, he filled out a form saying he had no injuries to his body.
Appealing the order in court on Monday, Feruz said he had twice applied for temporary protection in Russia as well as asylum, according to Human Rights Watch. HRW also said his applications for protection were rejected but the rejections were then overturned for additional review.
His case has been the subject of international condemnation.
Denis Krivosheev, deputy director for Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International, said, "Ali Feruz is openly gay, a human rights activist and a correspondent for the independent Novaya Gazeta newspaper. This is a near-lethal combination for someone who is about to be handed over to Uzbekistan, where 'sodomy' is a crime and torture is endemic."
But the Kremlin has said the case is about immigration violations.
President Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said a number of factors prevent Russia from "turning a blind eye to the [migration] violations that have occurred."
The Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, a body designed to assist Putin with protecting human rights in Russia, said Feruz's expulsion would contradict Russian law, because members of Feruz's family are Russian citizens.
Svetlana Gannushkina, a leading Russian human rights campaigner and founder of a Moscow-based migrant support group, also said the deportation order is illegal, citing Feruz's application for asylum.
"This contradicts the law," Gannushkina said. "He filed a request for refugee status. As long as the review of his application continues, he is legal here in Russia."
According to Gannushkina, "There are just 595 refugees in Russia."
"People generally get rejected. He was rejected, too," she said.
On Friday, the European Court of Human Rights issued a preliminary injunction halting Feruz's deportation while the case is being processed at the court in Strasbourg, France.