March 4, 2021

Back to school?

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By Tate Johnston,

For children, parents and teachers in many places in the world, August and September are a time for back to school, autumn leaves, fall festivities and first day of school photos.

There may even be funny images of happy parents high-fiving each other as teachers, following their summer breaks, are getting ready to warmly welcome children back.

Sadly, for teachers in Turkmenistan, this year they may have to pay to go back to school, to avoid working in the cotton fields.[1]

That’s right. This month, teachers may have to pay to teach so they do not pick cotton, but you can call for the release of Gaspar, a researcher who has spoken out about this injustice.

“Sources said that in September the teachers will be forced to go to the fields, although most of them would prefer to pay and buy out this responsibility. This year, however, teachers were warned that the [informal] cost to get out of the [government required] cotton-picking campaign would be […] more than during the previous season[…].”[2]

For many teachers, a fall field trip means a teaching opportunity, a trip to talk about lifecycles and the responsibility to count children on and off the bus.

For teachers in Turkmenistan, a trip to the field isn’t a teaching opportunity at all and what they have to count is the kilos of cotton they pick.[3] According to the International Labour Organization, a -required trip to the fields through the use of coercion is simply forced labor,[4] a form of modern slavery.

What if this were happening to the teachers in your school or community? What would happen?

I don’t think there’s a single teacher or parent I know who wouldn’t speak out against this injustice.

But to speak up about forced labor in Turkmenistan can land you in prison, which is where Gaspar is now and has been for almost two years.

Today, in honor of all teachers, let’s call for Gaspar’s release so he can continue to speak up for teachers and other workers forced to pick cotton this back to school season.

Together for freedom,

Tate and the whole Freedom United team

P.S. Tell a teacher. Know a teacher who would care this is happening and want to stand with the teachers of Turkmenistan? Share this with them. Invite them to comment here.
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[1] https://habartm.org/archives/9434
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.

Related:

On October 4, 2016, human rights activist Gaspar Matalaev was arrested in Turkmenistan, Central Asia. He has reportedly been subjected to torture by electric current to force him to confess to false charges of minor fraud. Repeated promises of his release have been broken.1

Gaspar is a prominent human rights activist in the country, where he has been monitoring the state-orchestrated forced labor system in the Turkmenistan cotton fields. His work has helped draw attention to the ’s annual mobilization of tens of thousands of citizens forced to pick cotton under threat of punishment.

Gaspar’s arrest came two days after he published a report on the extensive use of forced labor and child labor in the 2016 cotton harvest and one day after the Minister of National Security was severely reprimanded by the Turkmen President at a State Security Council meeting for not properly repressing activism in the country.2 It is clear Gaspar’s arrest was politically motivated.

This is not the first time the Turkmenistan Government has prosecuted human rights activists on politically motivated charges. This year, the United Nations Human Rights Committee has called on the Turkmen Government to end the harassment, torture and detention of those “seeking to document forced labour in the cotton harvest such as Gaspar Matalaev”.3 It is now up to the international community to speak out and demand action on behalf of the courageous monitors like Gaspar who put themselves at risk to help others.

Please sign our petition to demand the Turkmen Government immediately release Gaspar and allow him to continue his work in safety.

Photo courtesy of Alternative Turkmenistan News: https://habartm.org/archives/5844

To sign go to: https://www.freedomunited.org/advocate/free-gaspar-matalaev/?trk_msg=PNTBETRK69KKB86SOUAIM12DIG&trk_contact=037FSGUJ91I19DOFIHRSCHO86K&trk_sid=NAV2J9SNHO7JE8UF16QEODNPD4&utm_source=Listrak&utm_medium=email&utm_term=here&utm_campaign=FU-EN-18SEP-2018-GASPAR-NAT-TRUE&utm_content=FU-EN-18SEP-2018-GASPAR-NAT-TRUE

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