Justice for Olim

Speeches Shim

Tuesday, December 8, 2020
A man in a field in Uzbekistan
Sanobar Khudaybergenova for USAID

The Fergana region of Uzbekistan, with its favorable conditions for agriculture, is famous for its production of delicious fruits and vegetables. Forty-five-year-old Olim (name changed) is one of several millions of seasonal farm workers in the Fergana region. He supports a family of three children and a spouse on his modest income.

Olim’s peaceful life was upended when he was falsely accused of a crime – the storage and dissemination of information and materials containing fundamentalist (religious) propaganda. He was also accused of illegal possession of gunpowder. “A flash drive with prohibited materials was found at the home of one of my friends where I was staying, but I didn’t know anything about it and never even saw the materials it supposedly contained. As for the gunpowder, as an amateur hunter, I have a permit to store it,” says Olim.

Unfortunately, Olim’s testimony was not accepted by a local court that found him guilty on both charges. He spent more than four months in custody and was fined 40,000,000 Som (approximately $4,000 USD) – an astronomical amount for a seasonal laborer.

His relatives helped him to pay the fine, but knowing that he was falsely convicted continued to weigh heavily on Olim. “I was devastated,” he recalls. “It was a hard blow not just for me, but also my family and my parents. As an innocent person, I felt justice had to be served, I just had to persevere and keep fighting for it.”

Olim appealed his sentence on his own, but it was rejected. Since Olim could not afford to hire a private lawyer, he turned to the NGO Mehrjon for help. Mehrjon provides free legal aid to vulnerable citizens. The NGO’s lawyer studied Olim’s case and prepared an appeal to the Supreme Court which quashed the sentence and referred the case back to the appellate court for reconsideration.

This time, thanks to the dedication of Mehrjon’s lawyer, there were multiple hearings of Olim’s case, and eventually all the charges against him were dropped. He received back the full amount of the fine he had paid.

Olim’s entire family had been looking forward to this moment, and when it finally happened, none of them could hold back tears of joy. “It feels like a heavy weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I am no longer a convicted criminal, and my children are no longer the children of a convict. My honor, my pride, my life has been restored, and I cannot fully express my gratitude for that,” said Olim, his voice trembling with emotion.

Olim is one of over 2,000 people whose legal problems were solved with assistance from Mehrjon. USAID’s Legal Reform Program is helping Mehrjon and other non-governmental organizations across Uzbekistan to improve access to justice for the country’s most vulnerable people by providing free legal aid and raising their awareness about citizen’s legal rights.