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A young Uzbek picks cotton in October 2009.
Uzbek students who refuse to work in cotton fields during the harvest season in Uzbekistan are being expelled from high schools and universities, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reports.

Bobur Rashidov, a university teacher, told RFE/RL that an average of five to 10 students who do not attend or leave the compulsory work in the cotton fields are expelled from his university on an annual basis.

He said that of some 3,000 students at his university -- which he asked not be named -- about 1,000 do not participate in the obligatory cotton harvest.

Rashidov added that this is the case in the majority of high schools and universities in Uzbekistan.

He said that some of the nonparticipating students are threatened with expulsion unless they pay $130-$600 to university officials.

A student from the western Karakalpakstan region told RFE/RL that it was extremely difficult to get a medical exemption from the cotton harvest if someone was physically unable to work.

He said one student with a broken hand had to pay the medical commission in order to get an exemption.

Another Uzbek university official told RFE/RL that they are told that students opting out of the cotton harvest should be expelled.

Uzbekistan is the second-largest cotton exporter in the world and has been criticized frequently by international organizations about its use of children and students to harvest cotton.

The practice has prompted boycotts in the past.
Nigina Bakhrieva
Human Rights Watch is urging the Kyrgyz government to immediately stop harassing human rights monitors doing research in southern Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyz authorities recently denied entry to prominent Tajik human rights activist Nigina Bakhrieva. She was the third foreign advocate working in southern Kyrgyzstan to be denied entry or deported in 2009.

Bakhrieva was preparing a report about the arrests and sentencing of residents of the southern village of Nookat.

Nookat residents had taken to the streets in protest after they were denied the right to publicly celebrate the Eid al-Fitr festival marking the end of Ramadan.

In a statement, Andrea Berg, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, says: "Kyrgyzstan is increasingly harassing rights advocates investigating the government's abusive campaign in southern Kyrgyzstan. It's no coincidence that Bakhrieva was denied entry after having been in touch with Nookat lawyers."

HRW says the government is carrying out a campaign in the south against what it views as Islamic extremism.

Read HRW's full statement here.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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