Essay for Human Rights Day

Tatiana Dovlatova, Leader of the “Open Line” initiative group

In my human rights advocacy work, it is very clear to me that empathy and solidarity are very important.  Even when others cannot help with anything specific, their empathy is very important and it gives me strength.

I got into human rights advocacy by fate.  My son was accused of committing a crime and I began travelling to visit him in prison. During these trips, I tried to help the relatives of other prisoners.

Because of my work, I have been accused of crimes myself.  Since 2007, I have had to fight charges of libel, hooliganism and other “administrative violations” nine times.  In 2010 I was accused of violating Article 227 of the Criminal Code, which carries a potential sentence of five years in prison.  I was granted amnesty in connection with Uzbekistan’s Independence Day.  It all seems ridiculous now, but at the time, it was not funny at all.

It is often easy to become discouraged or lose motivation in this work.  But working with our many volunteers gives me strength.  We have grown from a small group of volunteers into the “Open Line” group.  Even during the long months of quarantine, we tried our best to monitor human rights violations in the country, including among prisoners.

We have seen some real successes in our work over the past few years.  I especially remember the shining eyes of five mothers from Colony #42.  Thanks to our work to fix the unsanitary conditions there, the authorities demolished ruined utility rooms and built modern, sanitary laundry and bathing facilities, and a playground for the children.  At the same colony, the men’s barracks were repaired, new windows were installed, and a crafts workshop was opened.

Another thing we are doing is registering homeless people.  In this way, they can at least visit health clinics.  I’ve helped disabled women and single mothers with children register to get social housing.  I’ve also helped disabled people register for the benefits they are entitled to receive.

All of this work takes place through hundreds of hours of consultations and meetings, and hundreds of letters and inquiries sent.  My two-room flat often turns into an office and a shelter for people from the regions.

Being a human rights defender is not easy.  I’ve been beaten and threatened, and even had to sell my apartment. For my colleagues and I, the support that we receive from international human rights groups is so important.  The rest of the world celebrates Human Rights Day on December 10, but on our calendar, we celebrate it every day.