On September 27, 2019, the Minister of Emergencies issued a decree formally ordering 2,100 firefighters to pick cotton in various regions across Uzbekistan. However, days before that, fire departments around the country had already begun making preparations and sending firefighters to pick cotton in the fields. Dozens of messages from firefighters appeared on social media, decrying the order to pick cotton and asking for help.“We are employees of the firefighting service. Every year we are forced to pick cotton for two months in Jizzakh region. The picking quota is 100 kilos per day. This week, we were again ordered to make preparations to go. What should we do?”-Message from firefighter on Pakhtagram, Navoi city, September 13, 2019“We, the firefighters of the firefighting service of Bukhara region are being forced to pick cotton. We usually work in three shifts. Now, one shift has left to pick cotton and so we work in two shifts (12 working hours). This is a burden for us. Honestly, we are afraid to sign our names, but please help us.”-Message from firefighter on Pakhtagram, Bukhara“By order of the head of the firefighting service, [name withheld], 100 employees have been sent to Jizzakh to pick cotton. But we were told that they will no longer force public organizations to pick cotton? Two hundred employees were forced to work in the Obod Kishlok program [for housing reconstruction and maintenance]. Why can’t anyone punish [our boss, name withheld]? He says that he received an order from the Minister of Emergencies, Khudaiberganov.-Message from firefighter on Uzbek Forum’s Pakhta-2019 Facebook group, Andijan, September 28, 2019“We work in the Samarkand regional fire service. We are picking cotton in Pakhtakor district in Jizzakh region. What they are feeding us a dog wouldn’t even eat but they are charging us 22,000 soums (approximately US $2.20) a day for it. If we complain, then the head of the cotton headquarters [name withheld] and a captain named [name withheld], who are in charge of everything said to us—what, do you want to lose your jobs?”-Message from Samarkand firefighter on Uzbek Forum’s Pakhta-2019 Facebook group, Jizzakh, November 4, 2019
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