Kazakh Blogger Critical Of Government Forcibly Admitted To Psychiatric Clinic

By RFE/RL's Kazakh Service

NUR-SULTAN -- A Kazakh blogger and journalist accused of being involved in the activities of a banned organization has been taken to a psychiatric clinic on a court order.

Police in the Kazakh capital, Nur-Sultan, on November 23 took Aigul Otepova from her apartment after a court decision to forcibly admit her into a clinic was upheld by an appeals court last week.

Before getting into the police car, Otepova told an RFE/RL correspondent that she had no medical conditions, including mental problems.

"A recently held medical examination concluded that I am absolutely healthy. My situation now is not about my health. This decision is politically motivated," Otepova said.

A court in Nur-Sultan ruled that Otepova 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.

Last 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 the 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 to a psychiatric clinic, the authorities are trying to silence her ahead of Kazakhstan’s parliamentary elections, scheduled for January 10.

Amnesty International said in a recent 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.