In Articles

Oilworkers’ representatives imprisoned, fined and sacked


Genuine trade unions blocked

Reporters, Kazakhstan

A court in Astana has sentenced Nurbek Kushakbaev, a union health and safety inspector working at an oil construction company, to two and a half years in prison. He was found guilty of inciting an illegal strike.

The criminal prosecution of Kushakbaev began during the hunger strike of oil workers in January. The judge ruled that the civil complaint the oilfield service company Techno Trading Ltd must be satisfied: the sum of 25.7 million tenge (more than 80 thousand dollars) must be collected from Kushakbaev – the amount the company estimates to be the damage allegedly caused to it by the actions of the trade union leader. According to the judgement, the state duty and procedural costs are also to be collected from the defendant.

Nurbek Kushakbayev was detained in January – at the height of the hunger strike of oil workers. Then, several hundred workers in Aktau and in the Kalamkas and Zhetybai fields held a hunger strike in protest against the closing down of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions by order of the Ministry of Justice. Another activist, chairman of the trade union at the oil construction company, Amin Yeleusinov, was detained along with Kushakbaev and was accused by the authorities of involvement in alleged embezzlement of trade union funds. (The Yeleusinov trial has not started yet.)

International condemnation

Kushakbaev and Eleusinov were both arrested and taken to Astana where they were held. After their detention, the hunger strike, which the court in Aktau earlier called illegal, was forced to come to an end. The oil workers who were on the hunger strike dispersed after the Aktau city prosecutor stated that the protesters “are acting against the state”.

Between January 19 and 24, dozens of oilworkers were brought before the civil and administrative courts. They were ordered to pay fines and some were sacked. Again they were accused of “Actions provoking the continuation of participation in a strike recognised by the court as illegal”. An audio recording was presented of Kushakbaev’s conversation with three oilworkers where, according to the prosecution, he is giving them “instructions”.

The International Trade Union Confederation has appealed to the Kazakhstan authorities to halt the prosecution of Nurbek Kushakbaev and Amin Yeleusinov. The human rights organisation Human Rights Watch has also called on Kazakhstan’s international partners, including the European Union, the United States and Canada, to put pressure on the Kazakhstan authorities to release the leaders of the trade union organisation. Representatives of Human Rights Watch called these arrests, in response to peaceful non-violent protest, “unacceptable.”

Further state repression

Repressive action by the authorities of Kazakhstan is becoming commonplace. Half a year ago, Max Bokaev and Talgat Ayanov were convicted to five years in prison for organising a peaceful rally.

In February this year, Zhanbolat Mamai, who edits a publication that is critical of the government, was arrested. Charged with “money-laundering” on behalf of a political opponent of President Nazarbayev, he faces seven years imprisonment. Within days of his detention, Mamai was being brutally assaulted by inmates of the same cell. His lawyers demanded that he be moved to another cell, even on his own, rather than be subject to a campaign of intimidation through psychological and physical intimidation.

Further attempts to set up genuine representative organisations of workers have been blocked. Last month, an application from a conference of worker-activists representing seven areas of Kazakhstan to register an independent ‘Friendly Society’ called ‘Amanat’ was turned down.

More protests needed

Campaign Kazakhstan is calling for a new round of international protests. Resolutions, letters, petitions and pickets can all help in demanding that the repression against activists is stopped.

Below is an idea of what needs to be said:-

We are appalled that once again the authorities in Kazakhstan are persecuting workers and not allowing the basic right to organise in pursuit of their rights.

We demand a halt to the harassment of oil-workers’ representatives. Release Nurbek Kushakbayev and Amin Yeleusinov now and drop all charges against them.

Allow the right to organise trade unions without government interference and prohibition. Register Amanat and reinstate the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions.

The democratic right to peaceful protests must be allowed and guaranteed by law. Free Max Bokaev, Talgat Ayanov and Zhanbolat Mamai now and drop all charges against them!

Release all political prisoners in Kazakhstan, including the writer Aron Atabek and the human rights lawyer, Vadim Kuramshin.

Stop the persecution of activists who campaign for basic trade union and democratic rights. Change your policies or make way for those who will truly represent the people!