LONDON, March 3 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A campaigner
against forced labour in Uzbekistan's cotton fields was arrested
ahead of an international meeting where she was scheduled to
give evidence on human rights violations, a human rights group
said on Friday.
In a video recording published online, the veteran activist
Elena Urlaeva said she was arrested on Wednesday, beaten by
police and taken to a psychiatric clinic in Tashkent, the
capital of the Central Asian country.
Urlaeva was due to attend a meeting on Thursday with the
World Bank, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the
International Organization of Trade Unions to discuss forced
labour in the cotton industry.
"The policemen beat me, tearing my clothes, to prevent me
from going to a meeting scheduled to take place in Tashkent to
discuss the situation of the victims of forced labour in the
cotton industry," Urlaeva said in the video.
A World Bank spokeswoman could not confirm any information
regarding Urlaeva's arrest but a spokesman for the campaign
group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said they had spoken to Urlaeva's
son to confirm the arrest.
It remained unclear whether Urlaeva had been released and
Uzbek authorities could not immediately be reached for comment.
One of the few independent rights defenders in Uzbekistan,
Urlaeva has regularly been beaten, arrested and sexually abused
by Uzbek authorities, according to human rights groups.
They say Uzbekistan is concealing a state-orchestrated
forced labour system that underpins its position as the world's
fifth-largest cotton exporter. They cite regular arrests,
intimidation and harassment of activists.
"Uzbekistan is unique in the world in that the government
mobilized over a million of its own citizens to pick cotton
under threat of punishment in abusive conditions for the profit
of the state," Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher for HRW
told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
He said the Uzbekistan government had been forced by
"significant international pressure" to reduce the use of child
labour in the country of 30 million people in the cotton
"But the largely repressive forced labour of adults has
remained if not increased," he said.
In early 2017, the ILO found that although Uzbekistan is
making progress in eliminating child labour from its cotton
industry, forced labour was still widespread.
It estimated that out of the country's 2.8 million
cotton-pickers, a third were "non-voluntary."
(Reporting by Anna Pujol-Mazzini @annapmzn, Editing by Belinda
Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the
charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian news,
women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and
resilience. Visit news.trust.org)