riskoftortureA court in Kyrgyzstan has upheld a decision to extradite a Kazakh opposition activist to his homeland despite concerns by human rights activists that he could face torture and ill-treatment if returned.

The court in the capital, Bishkek, on June 25 ruled that the Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General's Office's decision to extradite Muratbek Tunghyshbaev was in line with the law.

On the eve of the decision, Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged Kyrgyz authorities to protect Tunghyshbaev from being extradited or forced back to Kazakhstan, where the New York-based watchdog said he would "face politically motivated charges, as well as risk of torture."

"Kazakhstan has a long record of trying to silence people who have critical, dissenting views," Mihra Rittmann, Europe and Central Asia researcher at HRW, said in a statement.

Kyrgyz Ombudsman Kubat Otorbaev and rights groups have also urged authorities not to extradite Tunghyshbaev, saying he may face political persecution in Kazakhstan.

Tunghyshbaev was arrested in Bishkek in May at the request of authorities in Kazakhstan who claim that the activist financially supported and took part in the activities of an extremist group.

Asylum Claim

Tunghyshbaev denies the accusations, saying that Kazakh authorities are targeting him over videos he posted on YouTube about problems faced by activists and supporters of the opposition Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) movement.

The DVK was established by Mukhtar Ablyazov, a fugitive critic of President Nursultan Nazarbaev.

A court in Kazakhstan banned the movement in March, branding it an extremist organization.

The Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General's Office said on May 24 that Tunghyshbaev must be extradited to Kazakhstan, while Kyrgyzstan's migration service said on June 5 that he had officially asked for political asylum in Kyrgyzstan.

“It is [Tunghyshbaev’s] right to claim asylum given his fears of persecution, and Kyrgyzstan’s obligation to register and give full consideration to his claim,” Rittmann said.

Tunghyshbaev co-founded the human rights group Liberty in 2011. The group has worked on freedom of assembly, antidiscrimination, and other human rights issues.

He fled Kazakhstan in 2012, after security services summoned him for reporting on an oil workers' strike and an outbreak of violence in the town of Zhanaozen in 2011.

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service is one of the most trusted sources of news and information in Kyrgyzstan, especially at times of political turmoil. Azattyk's reports are regularly cited and reprinted by local and regional media.

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, June 25, 2018