Cotton Slavery in Uzbekistan: The Last Victims?
[Photo from the website Antislavery.org]
This cotton season in Uzbekistan barely started has already claimed lives of four people. The sad statistics of the newest Uzbek "cotton-growing" replenishes year by year.
Lobar Ashurova, a 28-year-old resident of the village of Pistakent of the Karshi district, has died during the cotton picking, Ozodlik Radio (the Uzbek service of Radio Liberty) reports. A young woman arrived in the cotton field instead of her mother, who worked as a nurse in the regional tuberculosis hospital, and, accordingly, was surrounded by medical workers. On 20 September, Lobar's state of health worsened, but she was not allowed to go home, but was left to lie on the field camp. She had been having internal bleeding there for three days not receiving any help. Among medical workers. Finally, an ambulance took her away, but Lobar died before the operation.
"After the divorce from her husband Lobar lived with her parents. The hospital management decided to send my sister Gulbakhor to cotton. But Lobar, her daughter, decided to leave her mother's two children and herself went instead to harvest her with an overnight stay. This tragic event occurred on the ninth day of her stay in the cotton field. No one gave her medical attention. Although almost all of the cotton pickers there were physicians. If Lobar had been delivered to the hospital on time, now her two children would not have remained orphans," one of Lobar Ashurova's relatives told Ozodlik Radio. According to a forensic report, the cause of the death of a young woman was internal bleeding. The district prosecutor's office is investigating the death of a young woman. According to the Ozodlik Radio, there were 150 workers of this medical institution of the Kashkadarya regional tuberculosis hospital in the fields since 12 September.
The local press reported a 58-year-old Muzaffar Umrzakov from Andijan suddenly died of a heart attack right on the field of one of the farms of the Izbaskan district. The misfortune also occurred on 16 September during the delivery of raw cotton. The ambulance took the body of the deceased to the family. Apparently, the man had a heart disease, but despite this, the circumstances and strict demands of local authorities forced him to go on the field instead of his spouse working as a cleaner in the Andijan secondary school.
A resident of the Djizak region of Uzbekistan, 39-year-old Gulzad Tajibaeva, died on 16 September after being hit by a shuttle bus on her way home after picking cotton. She was the head of the "Youth Union" branch at the school, the Sof.uz news resource informs.
But the most heartbreaking tragedy of the present cotton-growing in Uzbekistan was that on 19 September two-year-old Abdulla Rakhmanov was killed in kindergarten in the Uzbek district of the Fergana region. Gulnora Rakhmanova was forced to take her two-year-old child to work in a kindergarten because local authorities forced her 60-year-old mother-in-law who took care of her grandson to go out to pick cotton.
However, it is a mistake to think that these tragic events precisely made Uzbek Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov suddenly recall all schoolchildren, students, teachers and doctors from the fields. It seems that the high official took this step after a call from New York.
Emergency Order of President Mirziyoyev
The Uzbek government meeting led by Abdulla Aripov on the morning of 21 September announced the urgent task of President Mirziyoyev, who was still in the city of New York at the time. The Uzbek prime minister ordered all regional hokims (heads of administrations) immediately to recall all students and employees of state institutions from the fields where they had already engaged in harvesting raw cotton.
In the evening of the same day, Uzbek officials began to fulfil the instructions of the Prime Minister of the country. Also, regional hokims unexpectedly began to say that forcing schoolchildren, students and state employees to collect cotton is a crime. So, on 22 September, the hokim of the Andijan region, Shukhratbek Abdurakhmanov, threatened that he would personally imprison those who dare to commit such a crime.
Meanwhile, these same hokims, two weeks ago in the best Soviet traditions, forced people to go out to pick cotton and tear their throats with speeches about the delights of the cotton campaign. So, two weeks ago, none other than Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov himself gave instructions about the general and forced involvement of students, students and state employees in cotton harvesting. Then the prime minister of Uzbekistan shouted foaming at the mouth: "Who is the collection of cotton, he is against the state!"
Unexpected metamorphosis in the actions and speeches of the Uzbek prime minister and regional hokims happened after Shavkat Mirziyoyev's telephone order. Well, the head of the Uzbek state took this step after numerous complaints from local and international human rights organisations when he addressed the UN General Assembly.
As it is known, the Uzbek president stated in it that there is no longer any compulsory collection of raw cotton in the republic. However, at this very time, pupils, students, doctors, teachers and pensioners worked hard in the cotton fields of the country before their last heartbeat.
"Frontline cotton soldiers" reported in social networks on working and living conditions. Reading their reports, one could conclude that the Uzbek authorities are experimenting with people as if preparing for a chemical war.
"Not sarin, and not soman, but something like that!"
Students of the Bukhara State University described so the stench of a chemical sprayed by Uzbek agricultural vehicles over cotton-picking students. According to them, aviation-chemical defoliation of cotton leaves carried out three times a week. "When we collected cotton, we had airplanes over our heads and spraying some chemical. This chemical stinks like the "sarin" and "soman" gases. But, thank God, kills nobody!" Bukhara students joked on Facebook.
In Djizakh, the forced mobilisation of the population for the collection of cotton took some militaristic character. "The people in camouflage uniforms patrol the city. They stop passers-by and ask where and why the people go. Those who show fear or answer are not very convincing, the military is put on buses and sent to pick cotton," residents of the city of Djizakh said on the website of the Ozodlik Radio (the Uzbek service of Radio Liberty).
Workers of the Gulistan oil and fat factory, taken out for cotton on 7 September this year, also complained that airplanes flew over them and defoliated. "We are 350 people in the field. Every day they fly over our heads and spray chemicals. And there is no food and no drinking water. We are forced to drink water from the irrigation ditch. This water stinks of fish and marsh. Also, we are not paid money for the cotton we harvested," the cotton pickers complained.
The students from Andijan, Ferghana, Karakalpakstan, Surkhandarya and other regions also reported a non-payment of money for the harvested crop. Some of them testified that local authorities do not pay 450 soms ($ 0.05), as previously promised, but only 200-300 soms ($ 0.02-0.03) per kilogramme of cotton.
Students of Namangan State University, taken to the cotton fields of the Uchkurgan district, laughed that the local authorities had settled them not in barracks, but in the homes of residents. "Imagine, with the owners of houses we live like one big family!" Namangan students jokingly wrote in social networks.
It seemed that after 21 September, when Abdulla Aripov ordered to urgently withdraw students, students and state employees from cotton fields, the tortures of Uzbek cotton-growers and cotton-growers came to an end. However, this was not the case.
Cotton Slavery in Uzbekistan lived, lives and will live?
Unfortunately, despite the loud talk about the inadmissibility of forced labour, the Uzbek government continues the policy of forced cotton-growing. So, in some areas, local authorities order parents to go out to pick cotton instead of their student children. In social networks, there are reports observing such a situation, for example, in some areas of the Khorezm region. And from the Republic of Karakalpakstan, there are reports that teachers of schools and the teaching staff of institutes are compelled to employ, under the threat of punishment, pickers from among the day labourers.
Also, local authorities force cotton workers from state factories, plants, and private firms and companies to pick cotton. For example, the administration of the Bayavut district of the Syrdarya region still forces representatives of small and medium-sized businesses to bring at least one worker to the cotton fields. "If someone does not send their worker to cotton picking, then such a firm must pay the hokimiat [administration] 400,000 soms ($ 50) every month," an entrepreneur from Bayavut writes.
According to the Tashkent human rights activist Elena Urlayeva, who annually monitors the cotton campaign, the owners of the Angren catering establishments (a city in the Tashkent region) pay 800,000 soms ($ 100) to hired cotton growers to not send their employees to pick cotton.
And the authorities of the city of Almalyk left students of the local branch of the Tashkent State Technical University in cotton fields, using a rather original move. The city administration formalised these students as workers of the Almalyk Mining and Metallurgical Plant.
On 26 September 2017, the Central Bank of Uzbekistan sent a letter to the heads of its territorial departments and commercial banks requesting each employee of the credit institution draw in five people for the cotton harvest.
The request-demand of the Central Bank, signed by the deputy chair of the Central Bank Shukhrat Atabaev, says it is necessary to submit a report on engaging people "every day till 19:00" to facilitate the collection of cotton in 2017".
According to unofficial data, if a bank employee fails to ensure the dispatch of five collectors to the fields, he will have to pay a half million soms (almost $ 190) to his manager to pay hired day labourers.
While such creative and perseverant officials still sitting in the Uzbek government and local administrations, cotton slavery in the republic will live.
By Marsel Idrisov and Fergana News Agency