Under the blazing sun in a cloudless blue sky, green foliage droops with unfurling white cotton bolls. In the Fergana Valley in the heart of Central Asia, in the shadow of snow-dusted mountains, the cotton is ripe for picking. If the Uzbek authorities have their way, it will become t-shirts and skirts, to be sold around the world. Uzbekistan, already the world’s seventh-biggest producer of cotton, wants to become a force in the garment industry, too, on a par with the likes of Bangladesh, China and Vietnam.
In spite its rhetoric on reform, Uzbekistan is failing to overcome its habit of resorting to authoritarian practices when silencing critics. Highly secretive closed-door trials remain a familiar feature, and relatives of defendants can still expect to be threatened by security services operatives.
At least two secondary schools in Turkmenabat are easing up on compulsory participation in the annual cotton campaign, according to teachers at the schools. The teachers used to have to pay three times a week or more to hire cotton pickers, but this season they have to hand over money only once a week. The weekend routine remains the same, though: either the teachers go to pick cotton themselves two Sundays a month, or they give money to hire someone else. Overall teachers shell out between 60 and 90 manats a month ($3.3-5)
Following a wave of antigovernment protests across Kazakhstan earlier this month, activists from the volatile city of Zhanaozen say authorities are taking extraordinary measures to prevent them from attending another rally.
On Sunday September 1 schoolteachers from Turkmenabat in northeast Turkmenistan were sent to pick cotton. They assembled outside their schools at 6.30 in the morning, having received the instructions from the deputy principals on Friday evening (turkmen.news has screenshots of the messages).