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Wednesday, August 31, 2005 

Lock us all up.

Looks like the ways of the USSR certainly haven't quite died out yet:

A leading human rights activist in Uzbekistan has been locked up in a psychiatric hospital in an echo of Soviet-style practices after distributing anti-government leaflets which prosecutors claimed insulted the country's emblem.

Elena Urlayeva had earlier criticised President Islam Karimov for the Andijan massacre in May when government troops allegedly shot hundreds of innocent protesters.

Mrs Urlayeva, who is a member of the opposition Free Peasants party, was arrested in the capital, Tashkent, on Saturday and incarcerated in the mental health ward of a city hospital.

Talib Yakubov, chairman of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, said Mrs Urlayeva had been detained in the past and forcibly injected with drugs. "It is because she is such a persistent critic who works 24 hours a day to help the people," he said.

Mr Karimov's regime is accused of a catalogue of human rights abuses and fears a backlash from opposition groups. The Free Peasants party is not officially recognised.

A police spokesman confirmed to Interfax news agency that Mrs Urlayeva was arrested for distributing leaflets with a caricature of the Uzbek national emblem: a fairytale bird with outstretched wings representing freedom that was depicted as downcast and bedraggled.

Yesterday the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights called for Mrs Urlayeva's immediate release.

If you haven't read it, I highly recommend Anne Applebaum's incredibly moving and detailed short history of the Russian gulag, primarily focusing on it during Stalin's time as leader, but also before and after. Unlike most history tomes, it's readable and doesn't fall into being dry. From the 60s right through to the collapse of the USSR, throwing activists into psychiatric wards was a popular of getting rid of them, and also involved doctors making up fake disorders to keep them there. It's sad to think that similar practices are still being used today, and even more shameful that Craig Murray was sacked for speaking out about such dreadful abuses in Uzbekistan.

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