Despite assurances by Uzbek officials that teachers and doctors would not have to participate in the collection of cotton this year, human rights activists continue to document evidence of coercion.
On October 15, journalist Malokhat Eshonkulova observed and videotaped the departure of medical workers to the cotton fields in the Samarkand district (Samarkand region). According to the doctors, the forced mobilization was organized on the orders of the district hokim, Shukhrat Djamolov. The doctors said that they have been forced to work in the fields from the very beginning of the cotton harvest season to the present time.
The endocrinologist, Dr. Sayora Suratova, who works at the Medical Association of the Samarkand region, said that coercion to collect cotton is occurring with particular cruelty and that three doctors had been dismissed on the orders of the hokim.
According to Dr. Suratova, Dr. Fahriddin Saidov, who was a trade union representative and also responsible for organizing forced recruitment to pick cotton, died suddenly. Dr. Suratova said that the pressure on him was enormous, as he had had to provide a number of pickers, but also had to answer the constant complaints of dissatisfied colleagues who had believed the president’s promise not to involve them in picking cotton this year.
The wife of the deceased doctor, who spoke to journalist Malohat Eshonkulova, confirmed that Saidov Fakhriddin had been threatened and pressured by the Samarkand district hokim because of cotton picking issues.
Despite personal risk of repercussions, Dr. Sayora Suratova agreed to speak about coercion on camera. The video of the departure of medical workers from the Samarkand region and the original interview in Uzbek can be viewed here:
Dr. Suratova works as a pediatrician, specialized in endocrinology at the Medical Association of the Samarkand region.
The following is an abridged translation of the interview with Dr. Sayora Suratova, Samarkand district, Samarkand region, October 15, 2017
Contrary to the policy of our state, medical workers are being forced to collect cotton. On September 16, the chairman of our trade union, Dr. Fakhriddin Saidov died at work. He had received a lot of complaints. Nurses and doctors were asking him why the president said that teachers and doctors would not be involved in collecting cotton, but yet we were still being forced to do so.
He was under a great deal of pressure because the president had instructed that doctors should not pick cotton, but Dr. Saidov still had to send them because he was
responsible for mobilizing the doctors. He was 52 years old and he had two children. He died because of the cotton.
The hokim severely reprimanded our chief doctor, using very bad language and scolding him in front of all the staff, nurses and cleaners.
When Shukhrat Djamolov was appointed as hokim, he came to the hospital at midnight. Even the patients at the clinic were scared of him. There are complaints from the patients which he (the chief doctor) wanted to send to president Mirziyoyev.
Because of the cotton, the hokim dismissed three doctors of our association, Lola Tashpulotova and Asrorova, who are heads of department of the maternity hospital and Dr. Samadova from the Department of Surgery.
At the meeting, he shouted at them and ordered them to be fired immediately for not bringing enough people to pick cotton and fulfilling the quota.
Nurses were also required to raise money to hire mardikors, or replacement workers, which can cost 500-700,000 soums (70-80 USD).
The hokim ordered 300 people to be sent to collect cotton every day, otherwise mardikors had to be found. Do you think it is that easy?
Today, October 15, 1,000 (of our staff) have left to collect cotton in Guzalkent. What is offensive, is that among them there are old people, there are young women and they don’t return until 9 pm. There is no sympathy, no respect for the medical worker, only reprimands for not fulfilling the cotton plan.