In the year-and-a-half since Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev assumed power following the death of his predecessor, Islam Karimov, he has taken some steps to improve the country’s abysmal human rights record, such as releasing some political prisoners, relaxing certain restrictions on free expression, removing citizens from the security services’ notorious “black list,” and increasing accountability of government institutions to the citizenry.
Malokhat is being targeted for her work monitoring forced and child labor in Uzbekistan’s government-run cotton harvest
The head of the Parkent district administration of the Tashkent region, Nematulla Abdullaev, held a 45-minute meeting on November 1, 2017, during which he used abusive and insulting language to humiliate and intimidate the heads of organizations, enterprises, and community leaders for not sending enough people to pick cotton and meet quotas. An audiotape of this meeting was given to Radio Ozodlik (the Uzbek service of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty) by the head of an organization who took part in the meeting
Bettina Sengling, a German journalist, has been following Uzbekistan’s most prominent human rights activists. In a recent article, published by the German magazine STERN, she reports on forced and child labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton industry and the challenges faced by human rights activists in their courageous fight to end these practices.
A member of staff from Andijan Region’s Agriculture and Water Resources Department, who was brought to Syrdarya to pick cotton on 20 September, and who requested to remain anonymous, has complained to OzodMikrofon (Free Microphone) that he has been picking cotton for almost two months in difficult conditions and that the leadership has no plans to replace him or send him back home.
On November 3, 2017, human rights activist Elena Urlayeva visited cotton fields in the Balikchi district (Andijan region) and saw children at the age of 11-12 picking cotton.
On October 18, at a meeting of the administration of the Shahrisabz district of the Kashkadarya region dedicated to the cotton campaign, a group of farmers was criticized for selling cucumbers at the local market instead of participating in the national plan to collect cotton. After the meeting, several farmers were sent to the district police station. It is reported that female farmers spent the night behind bars.
The government of Uzbekistan forced people to work in the cotton fields during the spring fieldwork season under threat, the Uzbek-German Forum states in a report released today. The report also documents forced and child labor in a World Bank project area in Karakalpakstan.
On September 27, 2017, activist Malokhat Eshonkulova visited cotton fields in the Dustlik district of the Djizak region where she spoke to cotton pickers. She learned that 1,100 collectors, mostly hired by employees of various tax offices of Tashkent city, as well as the city enterprise TransYol, had arrived in the Dustlik district. One of the workers said that she came to work for an employee of the tax inspection office of the Mirzo-Ulugbek district of Tashkent who had paid her 600,000 soums ($75) to pick cotton for one month.
The regional administration rejected accusations of the use of forced labor and stated that employees of state organizations, as well as employees of special services, have been collecting cotton on a voluntary basis.