Tashkent human rights activists Elena Urlaeva and Solmaz Akhmedova, and activists Karimjon Madazimov and Bekzod Norboev, who live in the Pop district of Namangan region, have been placed under a 14-day compulsory quarantine in their homes since June 8 on suspicion of having Coronavirus. They were given an administrative warning and, in the event of violating quarantine, risk criminal prosecution for failure to observe compulsory isolation.

Human defenders peacefully conducted human rights monitoring before they were arrested in the Pop district, village Chadak, Namangan region, June 7, 2020

A certificate issued by the Pop district health authorities to Elena Urlaeva states that she and Solmaz Akhmedova had been in contact with a police officer, who in turn had had contact with a Coronavirus patient (the patient’s name was made available), who is currently undergoing treatment at an infectious disease hospital in the Namangan region. An undated certificate, signed by M. Ergasheva, head of the Pop District Medical Association, instructs the activists to self-isolate at home for 14 days.

In a video message sent to Uzbek Forum, Urlaeva reported that on June 6 and 7 a group of human rights activists monitored child labor in cotton fields in the Pop district of Namangan region.

Weeding the cotton fields, Pop district, Namangan region, June 7, 2020

“We collected enough material in a few days and made a video. However, we were pursued in an organized manner by police cars, patrols of the postal service, and representatives of various security services. Local women followed us into the fields. They intimidated the children when we asked their age. The women demanded that the children lower their heads and say nothing. Eventually, we were arrested in the village of Chadak (Pop district). Local activist Bekzod Norboev was beaten and sustained injuries. When we were taken to the District Sanitary and Epidemiological Department we were forced to take Coronavirus tests.

A human defender from the Pop district, Bekzod Norboyev, claims that he was beaten by Pop district police officers

The Deputy Chief of the Pop District, Davron Khujaev, and his assistant from the criminal investigation department restrained me and shouted at me for several minutes simultaneously in both ears. It was so loud that my ears still hurt and I have had high blood pressure for three days.

It is my second day in isolation. I have had different groups of doctors sent to me as well as an ambulance. People think we are contagious. I need help. We need to have the house arrest lifted and investigate why we are suddenly suspected of being sick with the virus. We also need to investigate child labor in the Pop district”.

A police officer is on duty outside Urlaeva’s home at all times. None of the doctors who visited Urlaeva have given any information about the danger of the virus to her 92-year-old mother who lives in the same apartment.

Medical workers in the flat of human defender, Yelena Urlayeva, Tashkent, June 9, 2020

According to official data, on June 4, the Pop district was categorized as a green zone, that is, not a single person had been infected with Coronavirus in the area.

On June 10, Uzbek Forum contacted Tashkent activist Solmaz Akhmedova, who is also in compulsory isolation, with a police officer on duty at her door. Akhmedova lives alone and has not been offered any assistance to obtain food.

Activist Karimjon Madazimov, who lives in the village of Chadak in the Pop district, told Uzbek Forum that he also received instructions to isolate at home for 14 days. He said that the village of Chadak, with a population of 57,000, has no drinking water so residents of the village are forced to use water from ditches. There is no gas supply, so residents bring coal from the district center located 70km from the village. According to Madazimov, the activists had planned to meet with the district administration to discuss these and other issues. Instead, police officers arrived and followed the activists through the fields. Alongside the police, there were women unfamiliar to the activists who antagonized them and tried to provoke a dispute. The activists were detained on the afternoon of June 7 near a local cafe where they intended to have lunch.

Uzbek Forum contacted another person involved in the events, activist Bekzod Norboev, who said that he was severely beaten on June 7 in detention. “Police officers took us to the district sanitation department where they forced us to take a Coronavirus test. They assaulted and kicked me. I still have bruises”, he said in a telephone interview. “Children weeding cotton fields have to work because of poverty”, Norboev said. They usually come with their parents and receive 30,000 soum (approximately 3 USD) for weeding all day long. Norboev is unable to have a medical examination to document his injuries from the beatings because he too is not permitted to leave his house.

None of the activists believe that Coronavirus is the reason for their compulsory isolation but that it is a pretext to isolate them and prevent their human rights work. None of the activists’ family members who live with them were tested for the virus.

Even assuming that the activists may have had contact with a Coronavirus patient, this story still raises many questions:

Three days have passed since the tests were administered but no one has informed the activists of the results. Does this mean that the tests were negative? Why were family members living in the same house as the activists not tested? Were all the police officers who had direct contact with the activists also tested and isolated? Finally, for what reason did police officers arrest activists who posed no threat to public order but were merely monitoring labor rights in the cotton fields?