Ali Feruz

Reporting on the marginalized

Journalist and gay rights activist Ali Feruz first had to flee Uzbekistan and then Russia. Now, safe in Germany, he keeps on working for marginalized people in the former Soviet Union.

‘I’m just now beginning to absorb that, yes, this really happened,’ says Ali Feruz. ‘I’m free and I don’t have to be afraid anymore.’ As a journalist working for Russian independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, Uzbek-born journalist and gay rights activist Ali Feruz was targeted by both Russian and Uzbek authorities. Feruz fled Uzbekistan in 2009 after he had been arrested and tortured by security forces, who wanted to make him an informant. In Russia he started working for Novaya Gazeta and applied for asylum several times, but to no avail.

As documented in the film Novaya, shown at the Movies that Matter Festival 2019 where he will be a special guest, Feruz was arrested in Moscow in August 2017. According to Amnesty International, Uzbekistan had asked for Feruz’ arrest because of a critical article he wrote about the country’s 2016 presidential elections. If extradited to Uzbekistan, Feruz would almost certainly be imprisoned and tortured.

In the suburbs of Moscow, Feruz spent six months in a migrant detention centre. ‘I had this expectation that they would come in, handcuff me and deport me,’ he says about his time there. ‘It was an overwhelming, constant fear.’ In February 2018, however, a Russian judge ordered his release and allowed him to go to Germany. He now lives in Göttingen, where he had a hard time adjusting to the fact that he is a free man. ‘When a person goes free, then he has to go free on a psychological level as well – and that takes a while,’ he says. ‘Sometimes I dream that my release itself was a dream.’

In Göttingen Feruz these days curates Unit: a network of journalists and human rights defenders which aims to increase the quality of reporting on marginalized people in the former Soviet Union. ‘There are a lot of queer people, women, migrants [...] suffering from isolation, aggression, abuse and violence,’ Feruz explains. ‘We want to give a voice to those who aren’t heard, whose voice has been taken.’