Uzbekistan: Human Rights Defender Threatened with Psychiatric Prison
Just as Uzbek authorities are reportedly releasing one political prisoner unlawfully held in a psychiatric hospital -- he happens to be President Islam Karimov's nephew -- they are busy threatening a human rights activist with forced psychiatric confinement, a practice still lingering in Uzbekistan from the Soviet era.
Elena Urlaeva of the Human Rights Alliance received a notice last week from Tashkent Psychiatric Clinic No. 2 that her case was being transferred to a court with a request for compulsory psychiatric treatment because she had supposedly violated the terms of her out-patient status, uznews.net reports.
Urlaeva says she was last put in a psychiatric hospital in 2005, after which the court pronounced her unfit to stand trial but then released her. Earlier in 2003, she was examined independently by Russian doctors who certified that she was sane.
The government seemed to drop the psychiatric angle for some years, so Urlaeva has been trying to understand why this notice has been contrived now. There's some speculation that perhaps it's a response to her recent involvement in cases in the city of Yangiyul in Tashkent region, where Urlaeva says she has discovered corrupt and violent police and prosecutors.
Urlaeva worked on the case of a farmer, Maxmud Suleymanov, who had asked her to help his sister, Shoira Suleymanova, who worked as a forensics expert and had refused to carry out allegedly unlawful orders by the district prosecutor. After writing a complaint, Suleymanova was arrested and charged with various fabricated offenses; then when her brother wrote an appeal for his sister, his wife, Zebo Hikmatullaeva was arrested and accused of striking an officer. Finally, after telling Urlaeva that he was writing an article about beatings and extortion of farmers by police, Suleymanov himself was arrested on November 24. Urlaeva visited Yanguil, but was unable to find where he was being held.
Another possibility, says Urlaeva, is that she could be facing retaliation for another complicated case in Yanguil involving a rape and murder of the prosecutor's son.
Earlier this month, officials warned Urlaeva that they were going to seize her foster son who is the nephew of her partner. She has theorized that if she were put in psychiatric detention, authorities might find it easier to take the boy.
The human rights defender also recalls another case that could explain the threat against her. In October, she picketed a civil court in Chirchik district regarding various allegations of abuse, including the eviction of old people from their homes. The chairman of this court is Abdugappar Halikov, who shouted that he would "put her in a mad house" when he saw her protest. Halikov is one of the judges who ruled in 2000 that Urlaeva should be forcibly interned in a psychiatric hospital.
Most of all, Urlaeva believes that authorities seem to want to find a pretext to put her away because her human rights work is effective.
In an email to the Yahoo news group Human Rights in Central Asia yesterday, Urlaeva supplied an annual report of the activities of the Human Rights Alliance and the kind of cases they adopt. Uzbek authorities and even some Western critics often describe human rights activists in Uzbekistan as elites who are agitating for Western exoticisms like media and personal freedoms supposedly at odds with Uzbek native culture.
But the routine cases taken up by the Human Rights Alliance (HRA) tend to be more about basic issues of economic justice and arbitrary violations of the law. Urlaeva was active in reporting on the exploitation of children as young as 10 in the cotton fields this season; she also lobbied to restore to a farmer some land seized by the local governor. The HRA also interceded for a woman who lost her place in the market selling vegetables due to an unscrupulous market boss, and eventually the woman was given her spot back and the director was brought to trial. The HRA helped get a maternal clinic to accept a pregnant woman who had been rejected for care in a recent campaign to reduce fertility.
Urlaeva and her colleagues have taken up the cases of unlawful bulldozing of people's homes and evictions; complaints about poor conditions in a school; even a policeman's unlawful dismissal. They have lobbied to get wages to workers who had not been paid, and finally obtained some delayed court-ordered alimony for a divorced woman. Urlaeva has worked on a dozen cases of people tortured by police in pre-trial detention and suffering under poor prison detentions.
Her organization also runs a hotline where volunteers give people legal advice. In her end-of-the-year message, Urlaeva calls on her fellow citizens to fight for their rights "and join the human rights movement to struggle with abuse of authority and the development of civil society in Uzbekistan." She doesn't have many takers, however, because the government's reprisals for such work are so vicious.