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Ex-Guantanamo inmate detained in UAE pleads UK to grant asylum

Ravil Mingazov's son urges UK to grant his father asylum over fears he will be returned to Russia, where he would face persecution and possible death
Ravil Mingazov learned to speak Arabic and had grown accustomed to the prayers and greetings of his fellow detainees.
Ravil Mingazov learned to speak Arabic and had grown accustomed to the prayers and greetings of his fellow detainees (Courtesy of Gary Thompson)
By Umar A Farooq in Washington

The son of a former Guantanamo detainee currently being held in an Emirati prison is pleading with UK authorities to accept a request to grant his father asylum, amid fears that he will be sent back to his home country of Russia, a decision the detainee believes would result in his death.

According to a letter seen by Middle East Eye, Yusuf Mingazov, the son of former Guantanamo detainee Ravil Mingazov, is requesting that the UK Home Office grant his father asylum and residency in the country where Yusuf and his mother currently reside.

The letter was delivered to the UK Home Office on Friday.

"My father has endured over two decades of imprisonment, torture and mistreatment and has been separated from his family for over twenty years. He is an innocent man. He deserves the chance to live his life in freedom and safety, with his family," Yusuf said in the letter, which is supported by the UK-based campaigning organisation, Cage.

"I cannot express the pain and anguish that my family and I continue to endure as a result of this. The helplessness we feel is quelled only by the hope that my father will one day soon be reunited with us."

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After being released from Guantanamo to the United Arab Emirates in 2017, Ravil was subsequently detained and has been imprisoned in the UAE since then.

The last time that Yusuf spoke to his father was two years ago. And while Emirati authorities would give Yusuf monthly calls updating him on his father's situation, Yusuf has begun to fear his father's condition is worsening.

"I only remember him being stressed and worried. We had a very short call, less than a minute," Yusuf told Middle East Eye about the last time he spoke with his father.

Since being detained in the UAE, fears have also grown that he could be sent back to Russia.

'I would say that he's gonna get killed. That's what usually happens to other people [who are returned to Russia]'

- Yusuf, Ravil Mingazov's son

"During his time in Guantanamo, my father was visited by Russian agents who threatened him with imprisonment, torture and death," stated the letter sent to the UK Home Office.

"The UAE recently announced that they intended to forcibly repatriate Yusuf's father to Russia. The decision has been widely condemned by both the UN and the US, with UN experts emphasising that the repatriation would represent a violation of international law, in particular the principle of refoulement."

Speaking to MEE about what could happen if his father is sent back to Russia, Yusuf said: "I would say that he's gonna get killed. That's what usually happens to other people [who are returned to Russia]".

Yusuf noted that he had previously sent a similar request for his father's asylum to the UK Home Office in 2015. But the appeal was rejected by the government because Ravil was still being held in Guantanamo at the time.

A spokesperson for the Home Office told MEE that it does not comment on individual cases. Middle East Eye also reached out to the US State Department, which did not respond.

Ballet dancer

While Ravil is currently being held in detention in the UAE, which he has previously described as "worse than Guantanamo", he is under imminent threat of being sent back to Russia. He fled the country more than two decades ago.

Ravil, who served in the then-Soviet Union army's official ballet troupe, escaped Russia in 2000 to evade persecution for his Muslim faith and travelled to Tajikistan. But after his infant son became ill, his wife and child returned to Russia while he travelled to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

'I had never heard of ballet dancing before, but he taught us some ballet moves for fun'

- Mansoor Adayfi

He was arrested in 2002 by Pakistani police who sold him for a US bounty, according to his legal team. After being sent to the notorious black site at Bagram air base in Afghanistan, where he was beaten and tortured, he arrived at Guantanamo in October 2002. While he was there, he was known as "Sa'eed the Russia".

“I met Sa’eed (Ravil) in Guantanamo Bay for the first time when we were protesting in 2003. He was a very polite and sensitive person. He joined us on the hunger strike actions we took to protest our detention. He was targeted by the guards because he tried to convince other brothers to join us," Mansoor Adayfi, a former Guantanamo prisoner, project manager at Cage and a friend of Ravil's, told Middle East Eye.

"I had never heard of ballet dancing before, but he taught us some ballet moves for fun. It was very funny, brothers in long beards learning how to do ballet."

By 2010, Ravil had won a legal trial at Guantanamo that determined the US government had no legal basis to hold him at the detention centre. But it took another six years for him to be cleared for release and finally be transferred out of the prison.

Ravil arrived in the UAE on the last plane out of Guantanamo before Donald Trump took office in January 2017.

Broken dreams

According to his Washington DC-based lawyer Gary Thompson, the US was assured by the UAE that as a part of this transfer agreement, Ravil would spend six months at a rehabilitation centre before being released, and would then be given a job and housing. 

It was his dream to live in an Arab country. However, that dream ended after Ravil was sent to an Emirati prison, where his family and legal team say he has been tortured, held in solitary confinement, and deprived of water and medical care.

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When he was first detained in the UAE, Ravil's family would receive monthly updates from authorities about him, and they would also be able to speak with him once a month.

"At the beginning, he used to call quite often, almost monthly. And then it came less and less. The calls used to last from two to three minutes, then would later last less than a minute," Yusuf said.

"When he used to say something about [the UAE] or complain, they would shut off the call right away. I guess it's like a punishment for saying something. He said they used to punish him, but once he said something like that and they straight away shut the call off."

Middle East Eye reached out to the UAE embassy in Washington for comment but didn't receive a response by the time of publication.

“Ravil Mingazov was tortured and held without charge or trial by the US. He was let down once again when the US failed to guarantee his freedom upon his transfer to the UAE where he has been imprisoned since," said a spokesperson from Cage.

"The US state department and senior representative of Guantanamo Affairs Tina Kaidanow must rectify this situation by ensuring that Ravil is released and reunited with his son in the UK."

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