Saodat Rakhimbayeva says she wishes she had died with her newborn baby.
The 24-year-old housewife had a cesarean section in March and gave birth to Ibrohim, a premature boy who died three days later.
Then came a further devastating blow: She learned that the surgeon had removed part of her uterus during the operation, making her sterile. The doctor told her the hysterectomy was necessary to remove a potentially cancerous cyst, while she believes he sterilised her as part of a state campaign to reduce birthrates.
“He never asked for my approval, never ran any checks, just mutilated me as if I were a mute animal,” the pale and fragile Rakhimbayeva said through tears while sitting at a fly-infested cafe in this central Uzbek city. “I should have just died with Ibrohim.”
According to rights groups, victims and health officials, Rakhimbayeva is one of hundreds of Uzbek women who have been surgically sterilised without their knowledge or consent in a programme designed to prevent overpopulation from fuelling unrest.
Human rights advocates and doctors say autocratic President Islam Karimov this year ramped up a sterilisation campaign he initiated in the late 1990s.
In a decree issued in February, the health ministry ordered all medical facilities to “'strengthen control over the medical examination of women of childbearing age”.
The decree also said “surgical contraception should be provided free of charge” to women who volunteer for the procedure.
It did not specifically mandate sterilisations, but critics allege that doctors have come under direct pressure from the government to perform them: “The order comes from the very top,” said Khaitboy Yakubov, head of the Najot human rights group in Uzbekistan.
Authorities ignored numerous requests by AP to comment. Most Western media organisations have been driven from the country, and government officials face serious reprisals for contacts with foreign journalists.
This Central Asian nation of 27 million is the size of California or Iraq, and population density in areas such as the fertile Ferghana Valley is among the world’s highest.