Largest Wholesale Market in Andijan Closed due to Recruitment of Traders to Cotton Harvest

On October 8, thousands of employees of state organizations from the Andijan region, along with traders from the local wholesale market were deployed to collect cotton, causing it to close.

The mass mobilization of townspeople to cotton fields is due to good weather and the opening of cotton containers, allowing large amounts of raw cotton to be collected. Employees of state organizations have been recruited under threat of penalties and even dismissal. Medical workers, school teachers, teachers of public institutions and trainers of sports schools have been sent to the fields. Parents of schoolchildren and students have been persistently asked to go to pick cotton.

Inhabitants of Andijan city are sent to the fields, sometimes with an overnight stay or for day shifts, returning to the city in the evening. The situation with payment for the harvested crop remains unclear. According to some Andijan residents, they are not paid anything, with some claiming that the state owes them substantial expenses for transport, food and accommodation.

According to Radio Ozodlik (the Uzbek service of Radio Liberty), the markets in Andijan were closed on the orders of the city hokim who told employees to go to collect cotton. For example, the largest wholesale market “Jahon Bozori” has recently been open only two days a week, on Thursdays and Sundays. On the remaining days, traders are not allowed to work as they have been ordered to take part in cotton harvesting. According to one of the workers at “Jahon bozori”, “this market has never been closed even during the years of Karimov’s rule in the time of cotton harvesting.”

An entrepreneur from the Izbaskan district of the Andijan region said that the mass recruitment to the fields began after a heavy rainstorm on October 9. “This year the cotton harvest is very tough,” he said. “A meeting begins at 8 pm every day and lasts for four hours. The hokim ordered all markets in the region to close. All organizations and enterprises are only engaged in preparing reports on the number of people sent to collect cotton. Yesterday I was in the Bulakbashi district. I wanted to go to the market to buy bread, but the market was closed. But I saw people inside the market. I asked the guard why they were allowed inside, but not me. He said that these people had arrived at the market in the morning and now they couldn’t get out. I gave them money through the fence, and they gave me four loaves of bread.”

On September 22, the head of the Andijan region, Shukhratbek Abdurakhmanov, stated that he would personally imprison anyone who dared to force schoolchildren, students and state employees to collect cotton. Nonetheless, forced labor resumed only a few days afterwards.

September 11, 2017