Oil workers in western Kazakhstan prosecuted for ‘illegal’ hunger strike

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ASTANA (TCA) — Dozens of oil workers are facing court hearings in Kazakhstan’s western region of Manghystau after a local court found their hunger strike illegal, RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service reports.

Hundreds of oil workers who had been on strike since January 5, protesting the closure of a confederation of independent labor unions, stopped their protest on January 21 following the court’s ruling.

Fifteen employees of the Oil Construction Company were found by a court on January 21 to have violated laws on public gatherings and fined $135-$340 each. Eight of those 15, along with 20 other workers, faced hearings on January 23 in the regional capital, Aktau, on charges of causing $9,000 damage to the company.

Two union leaders at OCC, Amin Eleusinov and Nurbek Qushaqbaev, were arrested on criminal charges on January 21. Eleusinov was charged with embezzlement, and Qushaqbaev was charged with organizing an illegal hunger strike.

It was earlier reported that most of the hunger strikers work within Manghystau’s Qalamqas and Zhetybai oil fields.

They are demanding that Kazakhstan’s ruling Nur Otan party reinstate the independent trade union body — the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Kazakhstan.

The confederation was closed down as a result of an economic court ruling on January 4.

The case was brought against the confederation by Kazakhstan’s Justice Ministry, which accused the organization of failing to comply with a 2015 law that required it to confirm its status as “national union” within six months of officially registering.

Confederation representatives say some of their attempts to register those activities were rejected by local officials, complicating the process of confirming the organization’s “national” status.

Human Rights Watch has said that Kazakhstan’s 2014 law on trade unions contains articles that restrict fundamental freedoms and are incompatible with international standards.

Similar protests took place in Manghystau Province in December 2016.

Kazakh authorities’ pressure on independent trade unions began after protests in 2011 by oil workers in western Kazakhstan.

Trade unions sided with the workers during those demonstrations, which lasted several months and ultimately led to the deaths of at least 14 protesters who were killed by police in the oil town of Zhanaozen on December 16 and 17, 2011.

Sergey Kwan

TCA