A former Guantánamo detainee is facing forced repatriation from the United Arab Emirates to Russia where he faces a “substantial risk of torture” according to UN human rights experts.
Ravil Mingazov is a Muslim Tartar who spent 15 years without charge in the US prison camp on Guantánamo Bay before being transferred to the UAE in January 2017. The conditions of the transfer were kept secret, but his family and legal team were given assurances that he would be freed after a few months. Those assurances were not kept.
Instead, they say he has been held in worse conditions than Guantánamo, suffering torture, deprivation of water and medical care. He now faces being sent back to Russia, which has a record of torturing prisoners transferred from Guantánamo, and locking them up after dubious trials.
As Joe Biden seeks to close down the Guantánamo Bay camp by transferring or releasing the remaining 40 inmates, the Mingazov case illustrates how transfer could actually worsen the plight of some prisoners.
The US state department did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.
“We are seriously concerned that instead of releasing him in accordance with the alleged resettlement agreement between the US and the UAE, Mr Mingazov has been subjected to continuous arbitrary detention at an undisclosed location in the UAE, which amounts to enforced disappearance,” said a panel of UN experts, including Nils Melzer, special rapporteur on torture and Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism.
“Now, he risks being forcibly repatriated to Russia despite the reported risk of torture and arbitrary detention based on his religious beliefs.”
Mingazov is a former Red Army ballet dancer who fled Russia out of fears of religious persecution, his family and lawyers say. They insist he had gone to Afghanistan out of the desire to live in an Islamic country and was not involved in terrorism, but was seized on the battlefield in Afghanistan after the 2001 invasion and handed over to the US for a bounty. He was 33 when he was detained, and is now 52.
He was never charged and was cleared for transfer by a parole board in 2016. His family pressed for him to be sent to the UK where his wife, son and other family members settled, but he was instead flown to the UAE in January 2017, where his conditions worsened dramatically.
In total, 23 former Guantánamo detainees have been transferred to the UAE, 18 of them Yemeni, four Afghans and Mingazov, a Russian national.
“They were all sent there on assurances that were given to their US lawyers, that they would spend six months in what was termed a ‘residential rehabilitation centre’, and thereafter they would be released into a society and allowed to safely rebuild their lives. That has not happened,” said Nick Beales, who runs a project on secret prisons for the Reprieve legal advocacy group.
“All of them were detained without trial on arrival, and none of them have ever been released into UAE society.”
“Ravil has been on hunger strike, and we’re aware that he’s being tortured, whilst detained in the UAE as well,” Beales said. “He’s been held in solitary confinement for extended periods, and he’s suffered physical abuse at the hands of the guards detaining him.”
“All this time he has not once been allowed to see a doctor,” his sister-in-law, Sevil Kurbanova, said. “There are no books, no Red Cross, he has nothing. Even when they are fasting they are not given a full cup of water or tea at night – just a quarter cup.”
Kurbanova, who lives in the UK, said that last month Russian officials visited Mingazov’s mother in Tatarstan to ask for documentation to help prepare new travel documents for him, signalling that he would be repatriated imminently.
Seven Russian nationals were repatriated from Guantánamo in 2004, with diplomatic assurances that they would be humanely treated. According to a Human Rights Watch report in 2007, “two of them have been tortured and are in prison after investigations and trials that did not meet international fair trial standards; one has been tortured and is in prison awaiting trial; the other four are either abroad or in hiding.”
In their statement on Friday, the UN experts pointed out that Mingazov’s repatriation to Russia would represent a violation of international law, and in particular the principle of refoulement, the forcible return of refugees or asylum seekers to a country where they are liable to face persecution.
If he is now sent back to Russia, Kurbanova said, “He will not be free for the rest of his life.”