Kazakh Court Upholds Decision To Place Blogger In Psychiatric Clinic

NUR-SULTAN -- A Kazakh court has upheld a decision to place a journalist and blogger accused of being involved in the activities of a banned organization in a psychiatric clinic.

The Nur-Sultan court of appeals announced its decision on November 19, meaning that Aigul Otepova will now be transferred from house arrest to a psychiatric clinic as ruled by a court last week. The initial ruling said Otepova must be placed in a psychiatric clinic for one month to check her mental sanity.

The 50-year-old journalist was put under house arrest on September 17 after she posted criticism on Facebook of the authorities' efforts to curb the coronavirus outbreak.

Earlier this week, her pretrial house arrest was extended until December 27.

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 DVK, saying that she is an independent journalist and blogger who expresses her own views.

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

Amnesty International said in a statement on November 18 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.

"This case is alarmingly reminiscent of the way psychiatry was used in the 1960s and 1970s in the U.S.S.R. to imprison dissidents. The legacy of Soviet psychiatry continues to be felt across the region, and Amnesty International has intervened in a number of instances in Eastern Europe and Central Asia where people who criticize the regime or denounce injustice continue to be arbitrarily subjected to psychiatric diagnosis, forced hospitalization and involuntary treatment in psychiatric hospitals," the statement said.

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.