“Far too many people are approaching me…many people are coming to ask if I need help,” the woman, who asked that her identity not be revealed, told RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service on July 9. “I am grateful for all the help and consideration I have received, but I don’t want any attention anymore. I don’t want any financial help either.”
Footage sent to RFE/RL by a police whistle-blower showed the 35-year-old woman being berated by off-screen officers and ordered to strip naked after being accused of theft from a bazaar.
“Take everything off, ****! Take your trousers off, ****!” shouts an offscreen voice, alleged to be that of a male police officer at the Kattaqurghon district police department in Samarkand Province. “I’ll f*** you! Take off your panties!”
As she huddles in a corner, completely disrobed, the voice threatens to make her “walk out on the street like that!”
After she repeatedly states her innocence, the voice tells her to “get the f*** out!”
In the same video, a second raised male voice can be heard insulting another woman and demanding that she remove her clothing as she pleads, “Brother, please, stop.”
Outpouring Of Support
Both the Uzbek public and authorities’ reaction to the incident were swift and overwhelming. Within hours after the video was published in early July, Samarkand prosecutors opened a criminal investigation into the incident and detained two officers.
The officer accused of being the man who ordered the woman to strip, identified as Sanat Umarov, was interrogated by a special team sent to Kattaqurghon by the Samarkand provincial prosecutor’s office. Umarov now faces criminal charges.
In the capital, Tashkent, lawmaker Rasul Kusherbaev called the police behavior “an insult to the entire nation.” “It undermined our laws, honor, and reputation,” the lawmaker wrote on his Facebookaccount.
The head of the State Women’s Committee, Tansila Norboyeva, traveled from the capital, Tashkent, to Kattaqurghon to support the victim and offered immediate help.
Uzbek media have reported that the impoverished woman’s house was repaired and renovated within days, using funds allocated by the local government. “Since her husband’s death, she has lived in complete poverty in a delapidated house at the edge of the village,” a neighbor, who did not give his name, told RFE/RL.
A Samarkand-based journalist, Karimberdi Turamurod, launched a Facebook effort to collect money for the woman. “Within days we got response from the public, including Uzbeks living in Russia, Sweden, and Canada,” Turamurod wrote in a later post.
Some Uzbeks abroad have asked for her children’s measurements so they can send clothes and school items, he added.
With the collected funds, local activists bought a large wooden door for the woman’s house, the reporter said in a Facebook video that shows the newly installed door.
Officials have also opened a small shop in the village for the woman to start her own business. Private businessmen have reportedly donated supplies for the shop.
Apologies Not Enough
The woman was detained and taken to the Kattaqurghon district police station after being accused of stealing a pair of galoshes and the equivalent of $6 from a nearby bazaar.
The woman — a widowed mother of two — denies the accusation. No money or stolen goods were found during the search.
Contacted by RFE/RL on July 4, before the footage was made public, Umarov confirmed that the incident took place in June. “I apologized to both women. The women complained about the incident to Samarkand provincial prosecutors and they are investigating it,” he said.
Speaking to RFE/RL on July 9 however, the woman said that the experience “left a permanent scar on my heart.”
“What Umarov did to me can’t be forgiven,” she said. “It ruined my life.”
Umarov has since been removed from his post, taken into custody, and charged with abuse of official position and mistreatment.
The identities of the second policeman and the second detained woman have not been made public, but police say the second officer, too, is under investigation.
Police Abuse Widespread
Uzbekistan’s police have long been criticized for mistreatment of detainees, as well as corruption.
In early 2017, President Shavkat Mirziyoev said that more than 4,500 police officers had been fired the previous year for reasons including “bribery and abuse of authority.”
The country’s human rights ombudsman, Ulughbek Muhammadiev, said he hopes the incident in Kattaqurghon will become cause for launching training sessions for the employees of law enforcement agencies.
Written by Farangis Najibullah with reporting by RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service