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Tashkent Urged by International Rights Group to Probe Attack on Uzbek Activist

International Rights Group Calls On Tashkent To Investigate Attack (Credits: Reuters)

A global human rights coalition, the Cotton Campaign, has urged the Uzbek authorities to conduct a thorough investigation into an attempt to intimidate renowned activist Umida Niyazova and her associate, Sharifa Madrahimova.

In a statement released on May 2, the coalition condemned the incident, which occurred on April 18, when two men accosted Niyazova and Madrahimova near Madrahimova’s house, accusing Niyazova of “organizing information attacks against Uzbekistan.”

Niyazova, the founder and director of the Uzbek Forum for Human Rights, and Madrahimova, a journalist, were forced to cut short their planned tour of the Ferghana region, where they had intended to meet with cotton-producing farmers and companies.

The two men, who identified themselves as “concerned citizens,” intimidated and threatened Niyazova and Madrahimova, preventing them from leaving Madrahimova’s house. One of the men, later identified as Shuhrat Esanov, a resident of Ferghana, held the car door, refusing to let them leave.

Uzbekistan Asked to Allow Foreign Experts to Investigate Unrest (Credits: VOA News)

Fearing for their safety and that of the farmers and local human rights activists they were planning to meet, Niyazova decided to cut short her trip. The Cotton Campaign has expressed concern over the incident, highlighting the crucial role that the Uzbek Forum for Human Rights plays in monitoring and reporting on labor rights violations in the Uzbek cotton sector. The sector is vital to the country’s economy, accounting for around 17 percent of its total economy.

Allison Gill, legal director at Global Labor Justice, which hosts the Cotton Campaign, emphasized that Niyazova’s work is essential in ending the systemic state-imposed forced labor of children and adults in the Uzbek cotton sector.

“Their work is vital to further Uzbekistan’s progress toward meeting international standards in its cotton and textile industry,” Gill said. “If Uzbekistan wants to demonstrate its readiness to participate in global supply chains that pay increasing attention to labor rights, it is essential that labor rights monitors and workers can monitor and report on conditions without fear of intimidation, harassment, or surveillance.”

Kyrgyz Probe Faults Uzbek Leaders (Credits: RFE/RL)

The Cotton Campaign and the Uzbek Forum for Human Rights had previously ended their campaign to boycott Uzbek cotton and textiles in March 2022, citing progress in eliminating forced labor during crop harvesting in 2021.

The boycott, launched in 2006, was followed by more than 260 apparel manufacturers and retailers globally. For many years, rights groups had called on Uzbekistan to eradicate its long-running state-controlled system, which forced millions of citizens, including children, to pick cotton to meet harvest quotas.

The incident has raised concerns about the safety and security of human rights activists in Uzbekistan, and the Cotton Campaign has urged the authorities to take immediate action to ensure their protection. The coalition has also called on the Uzbek government to demonstrate its commitment to upholding labor rights and ending forced labor in the cotton sector.

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