Tashkent Accused of Soviet-style Repression

The Uzbek authorities have fallen back on Soviet methods of silencing opponents

Tashkent Accused of Soviet-style Repression

The Uzbek authorities have fallen back on Soviet methods of silencing opponents

Monday, 21 February, 2005

Uzbek human rights activists have denounced the detention of a colleague in a Tashkent psychiatric hospital as a brutal attempt to silence the opposition.

Earlier this month, the authorities dispatched Elena Urlaeva to be the hospital against her will. She had taken part in several protest rallies in front of the local authority buildings in the Uzbek capital prior to her detention.

The authorities stopped forcing medical treatment on her after protests from the United Nations and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, HRSU, says the case demonstrates the Uzbek government only respects human rights when pressured to do so by the West.

The government is keen to present itself as a country busy building a civil society based on democratic principles.

But General Secretary of HRSU Talib Yakubov said the government's decision to send Urlaeva to the hospital was part of its attempt to strangle opposition to the authorities. " As in Soviet times, psychiatric hospitals are being used against dissidents in order to protect the regime," Yakubov said.

The day Urlaeva was taken to the hospital coincided with a rally outside the municipal buildings. She never made it to the demonstration.

The HRSU press office claims she was pushed into a car by policemen dressed in civilian clothes as she came out of her house and taken to the department of interior affairs in the Mirzo-Ulugbek area of Tashkent.

There she is said to have been severely beaten before being transferred to the psychiatric hospital.

Yakubov said Urlaeva had been doing a lot of useful work for HRSU, consulting citizens whose human rights had been violated.

In March and early April, she took part in protest rallies outside the local authority buildings to demand an independent inquiry into the imprisonment of her brother who was convicted of hooliganism. Urlaeva claims evidence against him was fabricated.

Urlaeva was also calling for the government to adopt a better social policy. She's long campaigned for the construction of more children's playgrounds, for example, pointing out that since independence in 1991 more and more such facilities had been turned into garages and cafes.

Local authority leaders mocked Urlaeva's demands, telling local journalists privately that she was probably mentally ill and that her calls for more children's parks could not be taken seriously.

Following Urlaeva's detention, Yakubov wrote an open letter to Uzbek President Islam Karimov, saying, "The state, which puts its citizens into psychiatric hospitals for their beliefs cannot be considered democratic or committed to human rights."

Yakubov said HRSU would approach international medical organisations such as the Red Cross and the World Health Organisation to request independent doctors examine Urlaeva. Yakubov said the decision to detain her in a psychiatric hospital would damage Uzbekistan's reputation around the world.

But the fact remains such tactics scare ordinary people. "I am afraid, that in Uzbekistan, anyone who criticises the behaviour of the Uzbek authorities could find himself in Urlaeva's position," said one resident, who asked to remain anonymous.

Despite the authorities' constant criticism of the USSR and its "totalitarian past", the Urlaeva case, if it is a political manoeuvre to silence opposition, is evidence little has improved from the worst days of Soviet repression.

Galima Bukharbaeva is IWPR' Regional Director in Uzbekistan

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