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Uzbek opposition leader arrested on corruption charges

[JURIST] Sanjar Umarov [official profile], head of Uzbekistan's Sunshine Uzbekistan [party website] opposition coalition, was arrested and charged with corruption Sunday. The state prosecutor's office has said that Umarov is charged with stealing money through his business dealings, though Sunshine Uzbekistan officials say Umarov had no remaining business interests in Uzbekistan [JURIST news archive]. Umarov has been critical of President Islam A. Karimov [BBC profile], warning that the nation was headed for financial and social ruin. Last week, Umarov called on parliament to begin talks with the opposition over Karimov's hard line policies, but the government has banned most opposition parties and rarely tolerates public criticism.

Umarov's arrest comes as the government began forcing human rights activist Elena Urlaeva, arrested last year for allegedly distributing anti-government leaflets, to undergo psychiatric treatment [AP report]. The forced treatment began Saturday, even though the law forbids compulsory treatment until the appeals process has been exhausted, which for Urlaeva will not happen until Oct. 28. Urlaeva has been a frequent critic of the government and was involuntarily committed to psychiatric hospitals in 2001 and 2002. Human Rights Watch has called for her release [HRW press statement] or at least for the government to stop the psychiatric abuse and grant her a fair trial. The US State Department has also condemned the action [press release] stating, "Treating political dissidents as victims of psychosis has long been a tactic used by repressive regimes." Earlier this month, another rights activist highly critical of the Uzbek government, Mukhtabar Tojibaeva, was arrested on charges of extortion [JURIST report]. BBC News has more.

The Uzbek government has been a particular focus of international human right concerns in recent months following its crackdown in dissent after the May protests in the eastern city of Andijan where government troops opened fire on demonstrators [JURIST report]. Fifteen alleged rebels are currently on trial in connection with the protests, although UN officials have expressed doubts about the fairness of the proceeding [JURIST report].

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