We are often the last straw that people who have no rights can clutch at. ... Human rights defenders in Uzbekistan are a bit like the partisans, for instance when they have to hide in the cotton fields with a camera to document forced labour. ... Sometimes we are the victims of lawless actions ourselves. We are assaulted, arrested, put on trial and thrown in jail.
Elena Urlaeva is a member of the Human Rights Defenders Alliance of Uzbekistan. She communicates with victims of violations of human rights on an individual basis, partly due to the lack of human rights organisations in the region. She organises public demonstrations for the right to freedom of association and assembly. Urlaeva has been monitoring cases of the subjection of Uzbek civil servants and students to forced labour. The evidence gathered by her and her colleagues reveals a widespread and systematic state policy of forcing citizens to weed cotton fields in several regions of Uzbekistan. In 2001, she led efforts to defend the rights of individuals who lost their homes due to a road-building project. As a result, in April 2001 she was detained and forcibly committed to a psychiatric hospital and repeatedly subjected to months of psychiatric treatment. Elena Urlaeva reported that during these instances of forced treatment she was given strong psychiatric drugs without her consent. In addition to repeated arrests and detentions, she and her family have suffered physical attacks as a result of her peaceful and legitimate human rights work. In April 2009, an unknown man assaulted Mukhammad Mashurov, Urlaeva's five-year-old son, hitting him with a baton on the head. At the children's hospital N14 of Tashkent, where Mukhammad was admitted, doctors refused to note in his medical card that the concussion was the result of an attack. Following the attack on her son, Urlaeva received a telephone call from an unknown male caller who threatened her with an “even worst attack”. On 31 May 2015, Urlaeva was detained by police and subjected to violence after interviewing and photographing teachers and medical staff forced by Uzbek district authorities to work in cotton fields.