To secure Gaspar Matalaev’s freedom following his imprisonment on spurious charges after the publication of his work to expose forced labor in Turkmenistan’s cotton fields.
Gaspar Matalaev is prominent human rights activist in Turkmenistan who was reporting on the state-sanctioned system of forced labor in the country during the 2016 cotton harvest. On October 4, 2016, Gaspar was arrested two days after the publication of his work reporting on conditions of forced labor and child labor in Turkmenistan’s 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.
Gaspar was reportedly tortured by electric current whilst in custody in order to force him to confess to false charges of fraud and bribery, following which he was sentenced to three years imprisonment.
Despite promises from the Turkmen government to release Gaspar, he served his full term in detention. We joined our partner, the Cotton Campaign, in drawing international attention to Gaspar’s case and campaign for Gaspar’s release.
Together we raised his case with the President of Turkmenistan; wrote to Turkmen ambassadors in Germany, France, Belgium, UK and USA ahead of the 2017 Ashgabat Asian Games; handed in the petition and demonstrated outside Turkmenistan’s Embassy in Washington D.C. in May of this year as well as highlighting his plight in international forums.
However, the authorities ignored all calls to release Gaspar.
In March 2017 we launched a campaign in partnership with the Cotton Campaign to harness the international community’s voice calling to free Gaspar.
- 101,564 people signed the petition calling on the Government of Turkmenistan to free Gaspar
- April 2017: Gaspar’s case was mentioned in the Human Rights Committee’s concluding observations in its report on Turkmenistan.
- May 2017: We wrote to the President of Turkmenistan requesting Gaspar’s immediate release and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention also expressed its concern over Gaspar’s detention.
- June 2017: Gaspar’s case and mistreatment was highlighted in the US Trafficking in Persons report
- September 2017: We wrote to Turkmenistan Ambassadors in Germany, France, Belgium, UK and US ahead of the Ashgabat Asian Games urging them to support Gaspar’s release
- January 2018: Gaspar’s case was highlighted in Human Rights Watch’s World report.
- October 2018: We joined our partner, the Cotton Campaign, outside the United Nations in New York calling for Gaspar’s release and for an end to forced labor in Turkmenistan’s cotton fields.
- May 2019: We wrote to the President of Turkmenistan calling for Gaspar’s release and joined our partners, the Cotton Campaign and ILRF, outside the Embassy of Turkmenistan to hand in over 100,000 signatures.
- September 6, 2019: Gaspar is finally freed but serves his full three-year sentence
Whilst we are relieved at Gaspar’s release, we are not celebrating. Gaspar should have never spent three years behind bars on spurious charges for working to expose forced labor in Turkmenistan’s cotton fields. We are grateful to everybody who joined the campaign to free Gaspar – upon his release, one of Gaspar’s first messages was to thank everybody who has supported him over the past few years.
We will continue to campaign for activists’ freedom to continue their crucial work to expose exploitation and forced labor, free from the threat of harassment and detention.
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It is an outrage against human rights that sovereign governments are legally able to enslave their citizens and nobody will do anything to stop it.