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Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Meeting Malokhat. Joanna Ewart-James, Freedom United.

Dear David,

Just two weeks ago I was sitting outside under the warm Uzbek sun with the stylishly dressed Malokhat Eshonkoulova, hearing about her continuing struggles. Well-regarded for her journalism, previously employed by state television, due to her monitoring and reporting of forced labor in cotton fields, she is still feeling persecuted. She faces ongoing hurdles get her legal registrations in order.

Call on the Uzbek government to end the harassment and drop the charges.

The President and Prime Minister of Uzbekistan have both made strong statementsregarding their wish to see an end to the systematic use of forced labor in cotton production. Both have acknowledged the role of civil society in the solution.

However, Malokhat, between taking calls on her cellphone, explained to me that she is still enduring a protracted legal process in the court system to secure the documentation required to travel, which she believes is in retaliation for her human rights work. She was prevented at the airport from attending a regional seminar earlier this year. Malokhat confirmed that the legal advice, paid for by Freedom United supporters, has been invaluable.

What’s particularly heartbreaking for Malokhat is that her daughter, in whose home she is currently living, is also suffering. Court bailiffs have come to her apartment six times. During an extended 11-hour search, one bailiff pressed her daughter to turn in her mother’s phone and notebook, which contained information from her monitoring of forced labor. Now after several applications,  her daughter is being denied an exit visa on the basis that she allegedly previously traveled abroad, committed an offense, and was deported back to Uzbekistan. This is not true— her daughter has never traveled abroad or received an exit visa.

...show Malokhat your support.

Whilst in Uzbekistan with the Cotton Campaign, I heard senior government officials declare their aim for a cotton harvest without forced labor. They invited civil society to roundtable discussions and encouraging them to report cases, but Malokhat told me that she is yet to feel optimistic about the situation on the ground.

Malokhat said:

“Whilst in the 2017 harvest there were positive changes with the end of the systematic use of students, despite the high-level government decree to allow us to monitor the cotton fields, in at least two places Elena and I were harassed and searched. It was clear that the local authorities didn’t want us there… We don’t have the structures in place to eradicate forced labor.”

There is still a long way to go. As part of the Cotton Campaign’s recommendations,Freedom United is pushing for the government to engage with civil society. We are asking them to allow unfettered access to fields for local, independent civil society monitors to document forced labor during this year’s cotton harvest and drop all remaining charges against human rights defenders.[1]

Show the government of Uzbekistan that we stand strong with Malokhat.
In solidarity,
Joanna and the team at Freedom United

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