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Uzbek Activists Detained Photographing Child Cotton Pickers

Human rights organizations have long charged Uzbek officials with using schoolchildren to harvest cotton.
Two Uzbek rights activists say they were detained by police for taking pictures of schoolchildren picking cotton in the southern Kashkadarya region, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reports.

Gulshan Karayeva and Nodor Ahatov, members of an unregistered Uzbekistan's Human Rights society, were held by local authorities for 10 hours on September 15 while taking the photos.

"We saw the fourth-graders picking the cotton as we were monitoring allegations of child labor in our region," Karayeva told RFE/RL.

"[The students] pick cotton from the early morning till the afternoon and then they are supposed to go to school afterward," she added.

According to Karayeva and Ahatov, Koson district police destroyed all the notes the pair had taken while observing the child labor, including such things as the names of the children involved.

Karayeva said she initially succeeded in hiding the digital camera card from police before they searched her from "head to toe" and confiscated the card.

Karayeva told RFE/RL they were then warned by police that they would be arrested if they return to the cotton fields.

International and domestic human rights organizations have long charged Uzbek officials with using schoolchildren and university students to bring in the country's annual cotton harvest.

The Uzbek government has repeatedly rejected charges that it forces students to pick cotton.

Several large international clothing retailers have refused to stock garments made with Uzbek cotton because of the use of child labor.

Cotton is Uzbekistan's main cash crop as the country is one of the world's leading cotton producers.