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By defending Russian journalist Ali Feruz, we defend ourselves. Now we need to repeat it

The solidarity campaign for Ali Feruz, who faced deportation to Uzbekistan, has been successful. What can we learn from it?

A column in support of Ali Feruz at the 19 January anti-fascist march in memory of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova. CC BY 4.0 Dmitry Horov. Some rights reserved.This article originally appeared in Russian on Socialist News.

For almost a year, people have campaigned in support of Ali Feruz, a journalist with Russian independent media Novaya gazeta. He was first detained in March 2017 on suspicion of breaking Russian migration legislation. This came after the refusal by the Russian authorities to grant him asylum after he fled Uzbekistan, where he had been arrested and tortured by the brutal Karimov regime. For the last six months, after a Moscow court decided to deport him back to Uzbekistan, Ali has been held in a special prison for foreign citizens on the outskirts of Moscow.

Yesterday, at 11.10am, Ali Feruz flew to Germany. The story of this journalist and activist, a friend and colleague, has caused a stir in public discussion — for the most part, thanks to the active campaign in support of Feruz. It goes without saying that Ali’s release is a victory for everyone who took part in the #HandsOffAli campaign

Until his arrest in August 2017, Ali covered the exploitation of immigrants in Russia and the crimes of Uzbekistan’s regime. He volunteered for human rights organisations, was an LGBT activist and a member of the Independent Trade Union of Media Workers. It was precisely because of these connections that when a Russian court threatened to deport Feruz to Uzbekistan — where Ali faced the threat of further imprisonment — a huge campaign was mobilised. Rights activists, trade unionists, LGBT activists — everyone joined in. And Socialist Alternative was one of the driving forces behind the public campaign in defence of Ali.

Freedom for Ali is a victory, but a better outcome would have been to allow Ali to stay, live and work in Russia

It’s worth reminding ourselves what’s been done. Activists conducted dozens of public demonstrations. We picketed the Russian Presidential Administration, the Interior Ministry’s immigration department and the courts. We took part in marches and protests, displaying placards in support of Ali. There were acts of solidarity in many other countries. The on-line petition on the platform collected over 70,000 signatures. There were fundraising evenings, collections to support Ali, his family and other immigrants who have found themselves held in the Sakharovo immigration prison. We distributed leaflets, recorded videos, issued press releases and held many meetings. In other words, we did everything possible to attract attention to Ali’s case and involve people who weren’t indifferent in action. In addition, of course, the lawyers and rights activists also conducted a huge amount of work.

In essence, we were forced to fight only for the Russian state to observe its own laws. The authorities should have granted Ali the right to political asylum and not try to hand him over to Uzbekistan’s political police. When it became clear that obtaining political asylum was not going to happen, the demand to allow Ali to leave Russia for a third country became key.

Ali Feruz in court, 7 August 2017. Source: YouTube / Euronews. I’ll venture an assumption that those people who, over the course of the past year, spread lies about Ali in the media and social networks will now claim that all he ever wanted was “to get out to the west”. By contrast, some people will think that leaving for Germany was the best outcome for Ali. But we don’t agree. Freedom for Ali is a victory, but a better outcome would have been to allow Ali to stay, live and work in Russia.

Ali is needed here. Not just because he is known and loved. His professional experience and personal qualities were useful to Russian media, civic and political organisations who are fighting for the rights and freedoms of all the oppressed. Ali himself wanted to stay until it became clear that neither Russia nor Uzbekistan would ensure his freedom and allow him to speak his mind. The authorities in these countries only see such people as a threat and are ready to get rid of them. They are prepared to hand over activists like Ali to neighbouring authoritarian regimes, hide them away in prison, torture them — even kill them.

This is why we still have more work to do and things to fight for. The campaign in Ali’s defence has attracted attention to the arbitrary treatment of immigrants and refugees in Russia, the inhumane treatment of foreign citizens in Russia’s immigration centres, which are no better than real jails.

We defended Ali, we defended ourselves. Now we need to repeat it — for those people who don’t have the same kind of support as Ali

The campaign, of course, also revealed several weaknesses. It was hard to keep the campaign “in shape” the whole time. Sometimes mobilisation happened automatically and, at other times, it was hard to get people activated. But we always insisted that the most important thing for this kind of political campaign was public activity, although not every participant always agreed with this.

But now we have reason to celebrate. This is our success, our achievement. Even in such difficult political conditions, solidarity campaigns can achieve important results.

Ali is now free. We defended Ali, we defended ourselves. Now we need to repeat it — for those people who don’t have the same kind of support as Ali.


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