An Uzbek blogger says she was beaten, threatened, and sexually harassed by police officers after she refused to give false evidence against opposition figures while in custody.
“They punched me, pulled my hair, and kicked me in the stomach,” Nafosat Olloshukurova told RFE/RL about incidents she said took place during an “administrative arrest” in her native Khorezm Province in northwestern Uzbekistan in September.
In another incident, Olloshukurova was “forced to strip naked” in front of a group of male officers who threatened to rape her.
The blogger said the physical abuse in police custody was followed by “psychological torture” at a mental institution where she was forcibly kept for three months to get “treatment” for a mental illness she says she didn’t have.
Olloshukurova, who is known for her live reports on Facebook, made the comments on January 20 after she left Uzbekistan, fearing authorities would forcibly place her back in a psychiatric institution.
“Doctors from the psychiatric hospital came to our house three times looking for me in recent days, but they couldn’t take me away because I wasn’t home when they came,” she said.
An English-language teacher by profession, Olloshukurova, 32, began blogging last year -- with the pen name Shabnam -- using Facebook as her main platform.
In Central Asia's most-populous country, where authorities shun free speech and criticism of the state, Olloshukurova focused on topics that annoyed government officials.
Her alleged treatment by security officers simply for reporting on a protest march defies claims by Uzbek government officials and others that Uzbekistan is undergoing a transformation under President Shavkat Mirziyoev toward becoming a more free and open society where basic civil rights are respected.
Among other topics, she reported about the alleged abuse of power by law-enforcement officials, a rare protest by women against police mistreatment, and a one-man protest by a businessman holding a placard that read “I demand my rights.”
She urged alleged victims of police abuse to contact her with their complaints and called on local governors to listen to people’s grievances.
Arrest And Threats
Olloshukurova was first detained in September after she extensively reported on Facebook from a protest march by a journalist and his supporters to petition the authorities to drop a dubious case against him.
A court in Khorezm convicted Olloshukurova of petty hooliganism and sentenced her to 10 days of administrative arrest, during which the blogger said she was subject to “inhumane and unlawful” treatment.
Olloshukurova said police demanded that she testify against opposition leaders, including Muhammad Salih, the founder of the Erk (Freedom) party.
She claims the officers wanted her to falsely state that the protest march was organized by Salih and other opposition figures living in exile abroad.
“I told them ‘Salih has no connection to the protest, how can I testify against him?’ But they said: ‘We will tell you what to say.’ I refused to cooperate and then they resorted to violence against me,” Olloshukurova told RFE/RL.
To protest the police mistreatment, Olloshukurova went on a hunger strike.
But authorities claimed she was mentally unstable and the court on September 30 ruled Olloshukurova needed psychiatric care.
The blogger was transferred to the Khorezm regional psychiatric facility, where police and other officials frequently visited and “threatened” her, she said.
“They wanted me to end my blogging activities,” Olloshukurova said.
“One regional police official threatened that if I ever publicly speak about the mistreatment I faced, they would make sure I become mentally ill for real and stay in a psychiatric hospital forever,” she added.
Olloshukurova was released from the hospital on December 28 and was reunited with her three-year-old twin daughters and parents.
Despite the pressures she faced, Olloshukurova announced in an interview after her release that she intended to continue her reporting.
Within days, however, she decided to leave Uzbekistan, fearing for her life and her freedom.
Olloshukurova says the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent, Ezgulik human rights group head Abdurahmon Tashanov, and lawyer Umid Davlatov supported her and saw her off as she left Tashkent.
She is currently seeking asylum in a European country and determined to continue her blogging activities.
Shortly before she left Uzbekistan, Olloshukurova shared a cryptic message on Facebook: “I told you I wanted to see the truth. I saw it, I found it.”