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Kazakh Government Critic Released From Psychiatric Clinic, Still Under House Arrest


Aigul Otepova will now be under house arrest.

NUR-SULTAN -- A Kazakh blogger and journalist accused of being involved in the activities of a banned organization has been found mentally healthy and released from a psychiatric clinic, where she was forcibly placed last month by a court.

Lawyer Ghalym Nurpeisov told RFE/RL that his client, Aigul Otepova, was released from the medical facility on December 11 after experts deemed she was of sound mind.

"She is at home now but remains under house arrest until January 17," Nurpeisov said.

Otepova, who has said that a probe against her is politically motivated, was admitted to the clinic in Nur-Sultan, the capital, on November 23 after a local court ruled that she must be placed in a psychiatric clinic for one month to check her sanity.

The 50-year-old journalist was put under house arrest on September 17 after she placed a post on Facebook criticizing official efforts to curb the coronavirus outbreak.

Authorities have accused her of supporting the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) opposition movement, which has been labeled as an extremist group and banned in the country.

Otepova denies any connection with the DVK, saying that she is an independent journalist and blogger who expresses her own views.

Otepova's daughter told RFE/RL earlier that by placing her mother in a psychiatric clinic, the authorities were trying to silence her ahead of Kazakhstan’s parliamentary elections, scheduled for January 10, 2021.

Amnesty International said in a statement that Otepova was "a prisoner of conscience who is being prosecuted solely for the peaceful expression of her views." The rights group also demanded her immediate release.

Human rights groups have criticized the Kazakh government for years for persecuting independent and opposition journalists.

In 2018, a court in the southern city of Shymkent placed journalist and blogger Ardaq Ashim in a psychiatric clinic after she criticized the government in her articles.

After her release, Ashim left for Ukraine, where she currently resides.

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