Uzbek human rights defender Elena Urlaeva was released last week from a psychiatric hospital in Tashkent where she was detained against her will for more than a month, according to the Cotton Campaign, a coalition of worker rights and human rights groups that includes the Solidarity Center.
While expressing relief at Urlaeva’s release, Umida Niyazova, director of the Uzbek-German Human Rights Forum says, “We continue to be alarmed at the heightened repression campaign the Uzbek government is carrying out against those who monitor forced labor in the cotton harvest.”
For 16 years, Urlaeva has documented forced labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton fields, where some 1 million teachers, medical professionals and others are forced to toil during harvest seasons. She has been credited with helping significantly reduce child labor in cotton fields, and this year was among human rights defenders in Uzbekistan to receive the International Labor Rights Forum 2016 Labor Rights Defenders Award.
Urlaeva was arrested five times last year as she spoke with those forced by the government to labor in the country’s cotton fields, and says that she was physically assaulted during the subsequent interrogation.
Uzbek Government Crackdown on Human Rights Activists
The International Labor Organization (ILO) has pushed the Uzbek government to end forced labor. Following a complaint by Uzbek civil society, the World Bank attached covenants stipulating its loans to Uzbekistan could be stopped and subject to repayment if forced or child labor was detected in project areas by ILO monitors contracted by the World Bank to carry out labor monitoring during the harvest. In March, members of the Cotton Campaign urged the World Bank to make good on its promise.
The Uzbek government has responded to global pressure to end forced labor by cracking down on Uzbek labor rights activists who monitor cotton harvests.