Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Help release the Turkmen journalist Gaspar Matalaev

Help release the Turkmen journalist Gaspar Matalaev 

He’s been wrongfully imprisoned for coming up three years. So help free human rights defender Gaspar Matalaev as part of the fight against forced labour in the cotton fields of Turkmenistan, a Central Asian Republic (CAR) where trade unions are not allowed to function freely. 

That’s the plea which is backed by the International Federation of Journalists and the International Union of Food (IUF) workers — a world-wide federation of trade unions that includes Unite - and which represents workers in hotels, hospitality, catering and associated fields. 

Just two days after publishing a report, written during an assignment for Alternative Turkmenistan News (ATN), on forced labour in the 2016 harvest, Gaspar was arrested on 4 October 2016. He was tortured in order to extract a confession to crimes — fraud and an attempt to bribe an official — he never committed. 

Whilst drug dealers and others with similar charges have subsequently been set free Gaspar, who is not allowed visitors or letters, remains locked up with no indication as to when he is likely to be released. 

“His report showed how students and public sector workers were being forced to work in the cotton fields in order to meet government quotas,” said a close relative, Rusian Myatiev, who is helping ATN to continue its invaluable work. 

Turkmenistan is a former Soviet bloc country that is ruled by the Democratic Party, which simply changed its name from the Communist Party in the 1990s. At the last Presidential election in Turkmenistan in 2016, the Democratic Party leader Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow was re-elected for the third term with a claimed 98% of the vote. 

Turkmenistan - and four other CAR’s that were also once part of the Soviet Union - have ratified eight fundamental ILO Conventions enshrining workers’ rights to organise. However, their actual implementation is currently impossible in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and only partially feasible in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. 

By shining a light on the forced labour problem in Turkmenistan, Gaspar was seeking to bring the practice to an end and create a momentum towards free trade unions with the right to bargain collectively. 

The campaign to force his freedom is growing and over 100,000 people globally have added their names to a petition calling on the government of Turkmenistan to release him.

There also now pledges by major global apparel brands to not buy Turkmenistan cotton and a US ban on the products importation.

Resistance internally also appears to be growing as according to Rusian Myatiev, “since 2016 people have continued to write about their daily cotton lives as it has become the norm for them and which they don’t want to be forced to do.” 

In October 2018, teachers in Turkmenistan’s second largest city, Turkmenabat, were forced to spend their nine-day break picking cotton.

“I hope everyone reading this will sign the petition to free Gaspar allowing him to then report on events in Turkmenistan and thus help with the struggle to open up the country such that free trade unions become the norm,” said Rusian Myatiev. 

The petition: Free Gaspar Matalaev, end forced and child labour! is at:- http://www.iuf.org/w/?q=node/6505


For more on developments in the five  Central Asian Republics visit:- http://www.labourcentralasia.org/en/

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