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Uzbekistan: Arrest and detention of human rights defenders Ms Gulshan Karaeva and Mr Nodir Akhatov while monitoring the use of child labour in cotton fields
Human rights defenders Ms Gulshan Karaeva and Mr Nodir Akhatov were arrested and detained on 15 September 2011 as they monitored and documented the use of children who are forced to work in the cotton fields in Karshi town, Kashkadarya province. Gulshan Karaeva and Nodir Akhatov are members of the Karshi branch of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan.
On 15 September 2011, Gulshan Karaeva and Nodir Akhatov were arrested by police officers as they observed and documented children who were forced to pick cotton in the cotton fields in the Kashkadarya province. They were taken to the Kasansky district police station where they were detained for questioning about their human rights activities.
The officer who conducted the interrogation session reportedly introduced himself as Nabil. He accused the two human rights defenders of being terrorists and claimed that they had illegally entered the Kashkadarya province. He therefore informed them that they would be investigated by the National Security Service (NSS).
Some time later that day, an officer working with the NSS, who was reportedly called Jamshid, began to question Gulshan Karaeva and Nodir Akhatov about their presence in the cotton fields. He asked that they prepare an explanation in writing detailing their activities.
When they refused to do so they were separated and the representative of the NSS examined Gulshan Karaeva's personal belongings searching for the memory card of her camera. Gulshan Karaeva requested that her lawyer be present during the interrogation, however the officers refused to contact her lawyer.
Gulshan Karaeva and Nodir Akhatov were then taken to a room on the second floor of the police station where there were a number of police officers present, including the head of the Kasansky district police station. The human rights defenders noted that there was a strong smell of alcohol in the room.
The police officers began filming Gulshan Karaeva and Nodir Akhatov and although they protested, the officers refused to stop filming. The head of police warned Gulshan Karaeva and Nodir Akhatov that cotton is one of the principle sources of wealth for Uzbekistan and that nobody should interfere in the cotton policy of the State.
Later on 15 September, at 9pm approximately, Gulshan Karaeva and Nodir Akhatov were permitted to leave the police station with their belongings, which had been thoroughly searched by police officers. Upon returning home Gulshan Karaeva noticed that her Front Line Defenders identification card had been confiscated by the police and they have since indicated that they are not willing to return it.
Front Line believes that Gulshan Karaeva and Nodir Akhatov have been targeted solely as a result of their legitimate work in the defence of human rights, in particular their documentation of the use of child labour in the cotton fields in Uzbekistan.