A new report by Uzbek Forum for Human Rights (Uzbek Forum), Punitive Psychiatric Detention in Uzbekistan: Silencing Human Rights Activists, presents a harrowing description of the use of forced psychiatric detention to repress human rights activists and regime critics in Uzbekistan. The report documents six cases where human rights activists have been forcibly committed to psychiatric institutions in apparent retaliation for their human rights work, sometimes immediately after they have exercised their political rights to either protest or petition the Uzbek government for reform.

A remnant from Soviet-style methods of repression, forced psychiatric treatment is often administered in institutions, far from any third-party oversight or the watchful eye of family members, leaving patients extremely vulnerable to abuse and unable to defend themselves.

In addition, accountability for abuse in psychiatric institutions is far weaker than in a traditional criminal setting since testimonies from persons deemed mentally unstable are easily discredited. Uzbekistan’s current law does not criminalize torture if it is committed in a hospital setting, thus creating convenient grounds for abusive officials to torture with impunity, and even with warped justification.

President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s reform program has led to widely held anticipation that it would improve the country’s appalling human rights record. Despite some progress, such as the release of some political prisoners, a reduction in the use of forced labor and the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the barbaric use of psychiatric detention has persisted. It appears that Uzbekistan’s new role on the world stage, along with its recent membership of the Human Rights Council, has not had the desired inhibiting effect on continued human rights violations, raising concerns about the ability of Mirziyoyev’s government to meet its international human rights obligations.

Veteran Uzbek human rights defender, Elena Urlaeva of the Tashkent-based Human Rights Alliance of Uzbekistan, has been detained in a psychiatric hospital no less than 18 times between 2001 and 2017. During her detention, she was subjected to cruel and degrading treatment and forcibly injected with psychotropic drugs with powerful negative health impacts from which she still suffers. A court order, without consideration of her testimony, stripped her of her autonomy, legal standing, and ability to defend herself or others in court.

In 2019, blogger and activist, Nafosat Ollashukurova, who publicly criticized authorities for corruption and illegal demolitions, was detained in a psychiatric hospital where she was given no access to her medical reports explaining the reasons for her detention and received no information on the drugs she was forcibly administered despite their serious side-effects. Ollashukurova left Uzbekistan in 2020 in fear for her life.

Even the nephew of the former President, Islam Karimov, was shown no mercy at the hands of doctors and those who sought to silence him. Jamshid Karimov was held in involuntary psychiatric detention for nearly eleven years and was finally released in 2017. During his detention, he was badly beaten, shattering many of his teeth. He was denied access to a lawyer, friends, and family and was refused access to information about his court proceedings. Karimov had been an outspoken critic of his uncle’s regime and had contributed regularly to the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting, as well as other independent media outlets.

The abuse of psychiatric commitment laws by the Uzbek authorities to either silence critics or violate the human rights and dignity of people with mental disabilities are in breach of Uzbekistan’s numerous international treaty obligations including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Without immediate action, the lack of accountability for past abuses will entrench the practice of punitive psychiatric detention and continue to put human rights activists at significant risk.

The Government of Uzbekistan must therefore without delay:

  • Investigate cases of abuse of psychiatric detention and hold perpetrators to account as required by Article 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
  • Facilitate a visit by the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, whose office has had an outstanding request since 2001.
  • Amend its criminal law to incorporate the full definition of torture as defined in Article 1 of the Convention Against Torture.
  • Prohibit torture in all settings, including psychiatric hospitals and amend Article 235 of its criminal code to make clear that torture includes forced psychiatric treatment.
  • Provide rehabilitation and compensation for victims of forced psychiatric treatment.


Download the report in English

Download the report in Russian


For further information, contact Umida Niyazova, Uzbek Forum for Human Rights:

Email: umida.niyazova@uzbekforum.org

Mobile: +49 176 3120 2474

Uzbek, Russian, English, German