Release woman political prisoners!
On occasion of the International Women’s Day the Norwegian Helsinki Committee issued a statement calling on the government of Uzbekistan to immediately and unconditionally free five woman political prisoners. These women languish in prison in for no other reason than their legitimate and peaceful activities, and the charges against them are trumped-up and must be dropped, the NHC said.
On 1 March Uzbek police arrested human rights defender Elena Urlayeva and forcibly committed her to psychiatric treatment. The Norwegian Helsinki Committee considers the psychiatric detention of Urlayeva as a means of silencing and retaliating against one of Uzbekistan’s few remaining human rights defenders. Urlayeva is known as an outspoken advocate for freedom of association and assembly and is regularly documenting human rights abuses and monitoring cases of forced labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton industry. She has numerous times been attacked, threatened and harassed by the authorities in retaliation for her activism, and has been forcibly committed to psychiatric treatment on a number of occasions.
On 9 November 2015 an Uzbek court sentenced journalist Barno Hudoyarova to five years and four months in prison on trumped-up and false extortion charges. Hudoyarova found herself in the government’s crosshairs after she published an article in which she criticized the authorities and accused several named officials of abuses of power.
On 5 November 2009 authorities arrested sisters Mehriniso and Zulhumor Hamdamova on charges of holding unsanctioned religious meetings in their home. Prior to their arrest the sisters were active members of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, working on issues related to religious persecution. Following their arrest, the state charged the sisters with threatening the president, threatening the constitutional order and forming, leading or membership in an extremist organization, in addition to the initial charges of holding unsanctioned religious meetings. According to reports, state officials stripped the sisters naked in detention and threatened to rape them. Mehriniso and Zulhumor Hamdamova were found guilty and sentenced to 6.5-7 years in prison on 12 April the following year.
Dilorom Abdukadyrova participated in the public demonstrations in Andizhan in 2005, where the authorities massacred hundreds of peaceful protestors. Following the tragic events she fled to Kyrgyzstan, obtained refugee status and later relocated to Australia. After several years abroad Abdukadyrova returned to Uzbekistan to be with her husband and children, pursuant to a guarantee by the Uzbek authorities that she would be safe in her home country. Not long after her return she was arrested and charged with plotting to overthrow the government. In March 2010 a court found her guilty and sentenced her to ten years in prison. As numerous Uzbek political prisoners have experienced before and after her, the authorities later extended her sentence on grounds of “violations of prison rules”, and added another eight years to her imprisonment.
Shortly before the international Women's Day, three women were released from political imprisonment in the Russian Federation. Taisia Osipova, Evgeniya Chudnovets and Oksana Sevastidi should never have been imprisoned in the first place, but the NHC joins in the relief that they have been released. Since the release of the three women and the activist Ildar Dadin, Memorial's updated list of political prisoners in the Russian Federation number 101, from which two are women.
On 21 December 2015, Darya Polyudova was sentenced to two years imprisonment on extremist charges, based on her involvement in preparations for the march for the federalisation of Kuban, which never took place. Zarema Bagavutdinova, residing in Dagestan, has been in custody since 4 July 2013 for inclination to participate in the organisation of an armed grouping.
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee joins the Human Rights Centre Memorial in Russia and the Organisation to Support Prisoners of Conscience in Uzbekistan in urging the release of these women from imprisonment.