Human Rights & Public Liberties

Human Rights & Public Liberties

Published on: 13 Jan, 2021

‘They say I have my father’s smile’: Yusuf Mingazov speaks to AJ Public Liberties

Published on: 19 October, 2021


Yusuf Mingazov [Courtesy of Yusuf Mingazov]

Yusuf Mingazov [Courtesy of Yusuf Mingazov]

Yusuf Mingazov is the son of Ravil Mingazov. Ravil Mingazov, a Russian citizen, was detained without charge in Guantanamo prison for 15 years. In January 2017 he was transferred to the United Arab Emirates where he is currently detained. 

Mingazov is a former Red Army ballet dancer.

Yusuf, who is now 22, was just three years old when his father was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 and accused of being associated with al Qaeda and the Taliban.

The US concluded that he was a ‘low level fighter’ before clearing him for release in 2017. Mingozov denied this.

Mingazov remains in prison in the UAE. According to his family and legal team he has been tortured, held in solitary confinement, and deprived of water and medical care.

There are growing fears that he might be repatriated to Russia.

At least seven other Russian nationals who were held at Guantánamo had already returned there, where some were arrested and tortured by Russian security forces, according to a 2007 Human Rights Watch report. Some were killed and some are now in hiding.

Yusuf Mingazov spoke to Mia Swart of Al Jazeera Public Liberties.

Swart: Your father is still in the UAE? What is the likelihood that he will be sent to Russia?

Mingazov: My father is in solitary confinement in a prison in the UAE. I am not sure which prison.  He has been in the UAE for almost 5 years now. 

Swart: But when he was moved to the UAE he was put under the impression by the UAE that he would be entering  into a rehabilitation programme?

Mingazov: They made promises. The Russians visited him in Guantanamo a few times. Even the Prime Minister came to visit him. Later, when Obama started talking about closing Guantanamo, the UAE offered to take him. They said they will give him a place to live and give him a job and other things. He wanted to go to an Islamic country and to a peaceful country which is why he agreed to go to the UAE. But then he was taken to prison instead.

Swart: What indication do you have that your father might be repatriated to Russia in the foreseeable future?

Mingazov: The Russian police came to my grandmother in Tatarstan and they were looking for pictures of him. They had a passport but they needed signatures. They took signatures from my grandmother and from the neighbours in order to make a passport for him.

Swart: You are expecting him to be maltreated or tortured if he returns to Russia. Why do you think so?

Mingazov: Because the same thing happened to his friends. The friends he had in Guantanamo who were repatriated to Russia were killed. These were friends from Russia, six or seven friends, who were also sent to Guantanamo. They were released much earlier than my father. The Russian government asked if they wanted to come back and they said yes. My father refused because he knew something bad will happen if he returned. But his friends returned to Russia and they got killed. We have this information from their families. Only one of them is still alive.

Swart: What do you expect will happen to your father if he gets repatriated?

Mingazov: I think he will be killed, definitely. I think it is because they don’t like anything bad said about Russia.

I don’t have contact with my father anymore. We have not been able to have contact in seven months. They used to call me but they stopped. He only has contact with my grandmother now. She is the only person he is allowed to speak to in the family now. My grandmother is on her own but my uncle looks after her sometimes.

Swart: Why did you and your mother move to the UK?

Mingazov: We moved to England in 2015. We moved because we had problems with the Russian government because of my father. They did not leave us in peace. We had a choice between many countries that offered help and said we could move there but we chose the UK.

I was 14 when I arrived in England. I am university now, studying to be a doctor. I want to finish my degree and find a job in the UK. My mother works as a teacher here.

I have two younger brothers. My mother got divorced from my father in 2005 and got married again and had two more children. My mother was hoping that my father would be released.

For the first five years of my father’s imprisonment in Guantanamo we did not even know what happened to him. We thought he might be dead. They only gave information later that he was alive. She waited for him for a long time but there were no signs of him being released so she asked him for a divorce.

Ravil Mingazov after being captured [Wikileaks]

Swart: How did the Russian government threaten or intimidate you?

Mingazov: They tried to threaten my father to come to Russia. They tried to use us to get my father to come to Russia.

Swart: So in the beginning of his time in Guantanamo he could not make contact with you or speak on the phone? And later on?

Mingazov: Later he was allowed to contact us through a skype call arranged by the Red Cross. The Red Cross was present and listened to the conversations. And in Guantanamo they were also listening to the conversations. They had translators from Russian.

Swart: Have you ever had a free conversation with your father?

Mingazov: My father would just speak briefly. I’ve never had a free conversation with my father. Someone is always listening in. It’s a dream to speak to him in private. I last spoke to him 7 months ago. Because he has been tere for so long he sounded down. He used to always be positive. He is a positive person but he is becoming less positive now.

Swart: What is the reaction of students at your high school and university when they hear your father was in Guantanamo?

Mingazov: I don’t discuss it with my friends. In general I have not been discriminated against in the UK because of my father having been in Guantanamo.

Swart: Do you resemble your father at all?

Mingazov: Yes I have some of his talents, a bit of dancing maybe. I look like him and people say I have his smile.

This interview was edited for clarity and brevity.

Ravil Mingazov during his time in the Russian army [Courtesy of Yusuf Mingazov]