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Last Updated: Saturday, 1 October 2005, 20:21 GMT 21:21 UK
Uzbek activist fears for health
By Ian MacWilliam
BBC News in Tashkent

Yelena Urlayeva
Yelena Urlayeva fears she may be beaten for talking
A human rights worker arrested and held in an Uzbekistan psychiatric hospital has said authorities are trying to make her declare herself mentally ill.

Yelena Urlayeva was arrested a month ago for distributing leaflets bearing a political cartoon.

There has been a wave of arrests of government critics in Uzbekistan since an outbreak of violence in the town of Andijan four months ago.

Witnesses say Uzbek troops opened fire on a protest, killing civilians.

No visits

Ms Urlayeva was arrested in late August for distributing a cartoon in which Uzbekistan was depicted as a cow, with corrupt bureaucrats sucking milk from its udder.

She is now confined in Republican Psychiatric Hospital Number Two on the edge of Tashkent.

Neither lawyers nor relatives are allowed to visit her. But a reporter seeking information in the hospital grounds saw her at a barred window.

Bodies in Andijan. File photo
The government is accused of hiding the truth over this year's uprising
Speaking rapidly for fear of being caught, Ms Urlayeva said she had been beaten because the authorities wanted her to declare herself mentally ill. She said she had refused.

They want to transfer her to another part of the hospital where she said there were many political prisoners. And she said that if she was caught talking to anyone she feared she would be beaten again.

After her arrest, Ms Urlayeva was sent for psychiatric tests, but was declared to be in good mental health. The state prosecutor's office then used its prerogative to send her to the more severe Hospital Number Two, for further psychiatric tests.

'Soviet relic'

Hospital Number Two, for severe and dangerous psychiatric cases, is run like a prison, with little or no access to patients.

It is a relic of the Soviet Union, which critics say the Uzbek government uses just like its Soviet forebears to repress critics of its authoritarian policies.

An opposition group is also concerned about three students from Tashkent who disappeared 10 days ago after mounting a brief flashmob protest outside the American embassy here, calling for political reforms.

Neighbours saw the three young men being taken away in cars. The militia have not replied to contacts from lawyers, but the Uzbek authorities often do not bother to inform relatives after arresting people.


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