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Uzbekistan: Psychiatric Punishment Used to Quash Dissent

Government Deploys Stalinist-Era Tactic Against Leading Human Rights Defender

In the Uzbek government’s most recent effort to silence human rights defenders, a court in Tashkent ordered a prominent human rights activist to undergo forcible psychiatric treatment, Human Rights Watch said today.

The Uzbek authorities are threatening to force Elena Urlaeva to undergo treatment beginning today with powerful psychotropic drugs even though the initial psychiatric commission had declared her sane and said that she did not require psychiatric treatment. The case against Urlaeva is the latest in the Uzbek government's deepening repression of human rights defenders and independent political activists in the aftermath of its massacre at Andijan on May 13.

"This is an insidious attempt to equate criticism of the government with insanity," said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The Uzbek government has shown its willingness to use Stalinist-era tactics in its campaign against human rights defenders."

Police in the Sergeli district of Tashkent detained Uraleva on August 27 for posting a caricature of the national symbol of Uzbekistan. The arrest report makes clear that Urlaeva was arrested for her political beliefs. It states that the reason for her arrest was an "attempt to distribute a caricature of the Uzbek symbol and possession of leaflets containing anticonstitutional text."

According to the government, she had four copies of the caricature in her possession, as well as 75 copies of a pamphlet describing the Ozod Dekhon ("Free Peasants") party, an unregistered independent political party of which she is a member. The government said she was also carrying 65 pages of printed text "critical of the policies of the president and government of Uzbekistan." Police charged her with desecrating state symbols under article 215 of the Uzbek Criminal Code, which does not provide for detention during the investigation phase, however.

Human Rights Watch expressed deep concern for Urlaeva's well-being and called for her release.

"The Uzbek government should release Elena Urlaeva immediately and suspend the court order until it allows an independent examination by an internationally recognized psychiatric expert," said Cartner today.

Shortly after she was detained, the investigator in the case ordered Urlaeva transferred to the Tashkent City Psychiatric Hospital for observation to determine her mental state. On September 20, the psychiatric commission pronounced her sane and declared that she did not require any psychiatric treatment.

Because the offense under which Urlaeva was charged does not allow her to be detained during the investigation phase, Urlaeva should have been released after the commission's findings. Instead of being released, however, the investigator ordered Urlaeva to undergo additional psychiatric evaluation. On September 23, officers from the Sergeli district police station forcibly transferred Urlaeva to the Republican Psychiatric Hospital. On September 30, the psychiatric commission for contested and difficult cases declared Urlaeva insane and in need of treatment and observation in a psychiatric institution.

On Tuesday, October 18, the Sergeli criminal court held a hearing and issued an order for Urlaeva's commitment and treatment. Neither Urlaeva, her lawyer, nor her family was informed of the hearing or able to challenge the decision.

Under Uzbek law, forcible psychiatric commitment and treatment may only occur pursuant to a court order. The findings of the psychiatric commission in Urlaeva's case did not provide a sufficient legal basis to allow her to be committed against her will absent such an order. Therefore, from September 30 through October 18, Urlaeva was held in clear violation of Uzbek law.

Representatives of Human Rights Watch met with Urlaeva today after she had been transferred back to the Tashkent City Psychiatric Hospital, where she is scheduled to begin receiving forcible "treatment" tomorrow morning. Urlaeva told Human Rights Watch that, as soon as she was brought before the psychiatric commission, she asked the commissioners to postpone the commission for a few days because she had just finished a five-day hunger strike and did not feel well. According to Urlaeva, the commissioners not only rejected her request, but made no effort to ask her questions in order to carry out a proper evaluation of her condition.

"The head doctor, Professor Turgun Ismailov, just started yelling at me and didn't ask me a single question," Urlaeva said. The commission declared her insane.

Urlaeva told Human Rights Watch that she feared the treatment.

"In court you at least have a chance to speak, to argue your case, to try to prove something," she said. "But forcible treatment is a final sentence."

"The Uzbek government has resorted to brutal Soviet-era methods to try to stop Urlaeva's political and human rights activities. Calling this 'treatment' is perverse," said Cartner.

The court's findings claim that Urlaeva is schizophrenic with delusions of persecution. In fact, Urlaeva has a long history of persecution by the government of Uzbekistan. A long-time activist who regularly participates in public demonstrations, Urlaeva has previously been subjected to constant police surveillance, frequent house arrest, arbitrary detention and interrogation, as well as psychiatric detention and forcible treatment.

On April 6, 2001, Urlaeva was detained on her way to a demonstration against government abuses at the Tashkent city government building and committed to the Tashkent City Psychiatric Hospital. She was kept at the hospital for three months. On August 18, 2002, police detained Urlaeva at a demonstration near the Ministry of Justice in Tashkent and again committed her for forcible treatment, confining her in the hospital until the end of December 2002.

During the course of her commitments, Urlaeva received forcible injections of psychiatric drugs including Thorazine, Trifluoperazine, and Cyclodol. Urlaeva reported that the hospital staff tied her to the bed to administer the injections. She reported that she had chronic headaches, and problems with her heart and kidney as a result of these injections.

In March 2003, Urlaeva underwent a voluntary psychiatric evaluation by a commission of psychiatrists from the Independent Psychiatric Association of the Russian Human Rights Research Center. The commission found that Urlaeva was sane, and did not require treatment or commitment.

Human Rights Watch urged the international community, particularly the United States and E.U. member countries with embassies in Tashkent, to take up Urlaeva’s case and call for her immediate release. The organization also called on the Uzbek government to grant urgent access to Uzbekistan for the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Human Rights Defenders.

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