Mutabar Tadjibayeva: “They Can Never Break My Spirit”
About the Author: Ruth Bennett serves as the Public Affairs Advisor for the Office of International Women’s Issues. This entry is one in a series of profiles of the 2009 International Women of Courage Award recipients.
“They can break my body, but they can never break my spirit.”
Mutabar Tadjibayeva is one of the most vocal activists in Uzbekistan, a country in which human rights issues remain a serious concern. As Chair of her own NGO, the Fiery Hearts Club, Ms. Tadjibayeva has brought attention to human rights issues in the Ferghana Valley – one of the most sensitive regions of Central Asia – and helped people seek justice. She has monitored trials, published articles on child labor, reported on violations of women’s rights, and organized public campaigns. In August 2003, Ms. Tadjibayeva suffered serious head injuries and was hospitalized for more than a week after a demonstration she organized demanding the resignation of a corrupt local prosecutor was forcibly dispersed by police.
In October 2005, Ms. Tadjibayeva was arrested at her home as she was preparing to travel to Ireland for a human rights conference and charged with several counts of criminal activity based on her activism. Despite the threat of a long prison sentence, Ms. Tadjibayeva remained defiant and told the court, “I do not regret my activities and I will continue them regardless of the verdict.” In March 2006, she was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment. Ms. Tadjibayeva’s health suffered as a result of poor prison conditions, and she was subjected to forced psychiatric treatment and long periods of solitary confinement.
In June 2008, Ms. Tadjibayeva was released from prison on medical grounds, though she remains under a three-year suspended sentence. Despite the suffering she’s endured, and at substantial risk to herself, Ms. Tadjibayeva has renewed her activism since her release and is in the process of trying to register the Fiery Hearts group with local authorities. She continues to criticize prison conditions during interviews with independent and international journalists. At the same time, she continues to seek constructive dialogue with authorities on human rights issues.
While Ms. Tadjibayeva has paid a tremendous personal price for her defense of others, she has shown no regrets for her continued activism. Her astonishing courage is a force for transparency, democracy, and good governance in Uzbekistan as well as a larger example of the power of an individual to take a stand and marshal international support for the cause of human rights. As she commented shortly after her release…”they can break my body, but they can never break my spirit.”