After more than a month of involuntary detention in Tashkent City Psychiatric Clinic, Uzbek human rights defender Elena Urlaeva was finally released on June 1. Ms. Urlaeva, the elected leader of the Human Rights Alliance of Uzbekistan (PAU), voluntarily checked into the hospital on March 9. When she was due to go home in late April, the hospital refused to release her, citing official orders and converted her hospital room into a detention cell. Officials then threatened Ms. Urlaeva with detention for a year or longer.
Ms. Urlaeva reported ill treatment during her detention. “Hospital staff turned aggressive patients on me, who beat me and dragged me by the hair. They did this first to break my will, knowing I am a human rights defender,” she said. “One time, I tried to defend myself from these patients with an iron chair The staff then started filming me on their mobile phones and said the video would be evidence that I was aggressive and ill.”
Such actions from the clinic officials, and the timing of the detention as the Uzbek Government coercively mobilizes citizens to prepare cotton fields, raise concerns that the purpose of her detention was to silence and prevent her from documenting forced labor during the 2016 cotton production cycle. Elena Urlaeva has dedicated her work for fighting human rights violations and labor rights abuses in Uzbekistan, particularly the practice of state-sponsored forced labor in the cotton sector. For 16 years, she has helped to document that the government subjects more than one million Uzbek citizens to forced labor each year. The Uzbek government has repeatedly retaliated against her and taken a number of steps to silence her, including by arresting her five times in 2015 and subjecting her to brutal body-cavity searches, harassment and surveillance.
“We continue to be alarmed at heightened repression campaign the Uzbek government is carrying out against those who monitor forced labor in the cotton harvest,” said Umida Niyazova director of the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights (UGF). “We are very pleased that in this case, Elena is now free and are thankful for support from the international community, which helped secure Elena’s release.”
Ms. Urlaeva, who has been called the “bravest person in Uzbekistan” for her dedication to advocate for human rights in the face of brutal retaliation, is now resting with family to recover from the traumatic incident, but has already expressed that she is eager to return to her work.
The Cotton Campaign is a global coalition of labor, human rights, investor and business organizations coalesced to end forced labor of children and adults in the cotton sector of Uzbekistan.
Read the latest issue of the Chronicle of Forced Labour in Uzbekistan, by the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights here: http://uzbekgermanforum.org/chronicle-of-forced-labour-in-uzbekistan/