Medical staff from Samarkand is being transported to the cotton fields © UGF 2017

Victims of forced labor in Uzbekistan – 58-year-old convict and children’s doctor

This year’s cotton harvest has demanded its first victims: 58-year-old convict Najmiddin Sarimsoqov, who was sent to the Zafarobod District of the Jizzakh Region to pick cotton, died in the cotton field. Also, 52-year-old Fahriddin Saidov, who was a children’s doctor in the Samarkand District medical association, died of a heart attack, two days after a meeting where he had been threatened.

The relatives of N. Sarimsoqov say that the deceased had suffered from a heart disease. The convict, who had survived two heart attacks in the past, was forced to pick cotton. While making preparations to leave for the cotton fields on October 8, early in the morning, N. Sarimsoqov suddenly fell down. The doctors who arrived at the scene, connected him to artificial-breathing equipment, but they had no chance to save his life. His relatives said that the doctor diagnosed that he had died of a brain hemorrhage. According to a report received by BBC, the convicts who were sent to the Zafarobod District to pick cotton, were required to pick 100 kilos of cotton per day. Those convicts who failed to pick the required amount were forced to carry out additional tasks such as peeling potatoes and onions. According to the relatives of the deceased, N. Sarimsoqov was not forced to pick 100 kilos of cotton because he was over 60 years old and he was not feeling well. “He said that he was picking 50-60 kilograms of cotton per day. He was not forced to pick the required 100 kilograms because he was old and not feeling well. They had to wake up at 4 o’clock in the morning and go to cotton fields at dawn. They had to be in the cotton field till sunset,” said a relative of the deceased. N. Sarimsoqov had already survived two heart attacks in the past and he was not supposed to carry heavy weight. Despite that, he was sent to the Zafarobod District to pick cotton. “He had pain in his feet and received medical treatment in the field for a week, during which he did not pick cotton. He asked us to come on the next day before evening, because he had to pick cotton during the day. As it was damp out there, he asked us to bring warm boots for him. And then we received the sad news in the morning,” said one of his relatives. The death of 58-year-old Najmiddin Sarimsoqov during the cotton campaign is not the only case of this sort.

According to the human rights activist Malohat Eshonqulova, a children’s doctor from Samarkand, Fahriddin Saidov, also died while making preparations to go and pick cotton on September 16, two days after having experienced humiliation and threats in a meeting.

Saidov was the deputy chairman of the Samarkand District medical association’s trade union. F. Saidov, who in fact is supposed to defend the members’ interests, was assigned to send medical staff members in the district to the fields to pick cotton. Malohat Eshonqulova, who had studied the case closely, told BBC that F. Saidov had died on October 16 in his office while sending the medical staff to the fields to pick cotton.

“The doctors and nurses approached F. Saidov and refused to pick cotton. ‘Why do you force us to pick cotton at a time when the president and the government have ordered us not to? As the chairman of trade unions, shouldn’t you protect our rights?’. Following these accusations by medical employees, F.Saidov started to feel bad. He died shortly after, in the intensive care department of the hospital”, said Maloha Eshonqulova.

Based on what the testimonies by relatives of the deceased, M. Eshonqulova reports that Fahriddin Saidov had been humiliated at a meeting two days before his death, and had already felt sick.

“Two days ago he was reprimanded by the leadership due to the fact that fewer people were picking cotton. At that meeting, he felt sick and had a heart attack. His colleagues urged him to see his doctor and receive medical treatment. However, he refused, saying that he would do so after the cotton picking campaign was finished,” said Maloha Esnonqulova.

According to Malohat Eshonqulova, who went to the Samarkand District to familiarize herself with the situation, medical staff members in the district are still being forced to pick cotton. The head of the district administration dismisses those doctors and medical workers who refuse to pick cotton. The head of the district administration told the chief doctor of the district that he should send people to pick cotton and humiliated him in front of his subordinates.

Every year, people die in Uzbekistan due to circumstances connected with the cotton harvest. It was earlier reported that the teacher Gulzoda Tojiboyeva had died under a bus while returning back from cotton fields in the Jizzak