After widespread strikes in 2011 and 2012, Kazakhstan adopted a new Trade Union Law in 2014 that virtually eliminated the possibility of independent union organizing. The law creates a burdensome registration requirement that resulted in some unions being denied registration. Several trade union activists have been imprisoned and upon release, banned from union activities. Three activists, Nurbek Kushakbaev, Amin Eleusinov, and Larisa Kharkova, remain banned from leading trade unions and the leader of the Independent Oil and Energy Workers’ Union, Erlan Baltabay, was again jailed this October. Kazakhstan continues to be a place where the government harasses, detains, and imprisons those who voice dissenting opinions
The new president, Tokaev who promised reforms when he took over this year, has failed to bring Kazakhstan closer to UN human rights norms. Governments should use an upcoming review of Kazakhstan’s rights record at the United Nations (UN) to hold the country’s new president to his pledges to respect human rights, Human Rights Watch said today. On November 7, 2019, Kazakhstan will undergo its third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
In his annual address to the nation in September, the new president pledged to strengthen the defense of human rights and to carry out “deep reforms of judicial and law enforcement systems.”
However, protesters in Kazakhstan are still often met by large deployments of riot police and mass arrests. While the authorities have allowed some rallies to take place without intervention, in September dozens were arrested for protesting growing Chinese investment in Kazakhstan, and more than 100 people were detained at a rally held by a banned opposition movement.
Several prominent activists remain unjustly behind bars, including Max Bokaev, sentenced to five years in prison for calls for peaceful protests against proposed land code amendments in 2016, and Erlan Baltabay, a trade union activist condemned on charges that appeared politically motivated of misappropriating union funds.
Organizations that work on controversial issues or are critical of the government are denied official registration, and risk serious penalties by operating without it. And the government continues to restrict independent trade union activity and to persecute trade union activists.
After widespread strikes in 2011 and 2012, Kazakhstan adopted a new Trade Union Law in 2014 that virtually eliminated the possibility of independent union organizing. The law creates a burdensome registration requirement that resulted in some unions being denied registration. The law also mandates that unions affiliate with higher-tier unions. The Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Kazakhstan (KNPRK), the country’s largest independent union that received the Arthur Svensson award last year, was ordered to close in 2017.
During the International Labour Conference in Geneva in June 2019, as well as during the session in 2017, Kazakhstan was put under a special scrutiny for systematic violations of the trade union and human rights. In June, ILO sanctioned Kazakhstan for failing to amend the law and other restrictions on trade union activity.
Several trade union activists have been imprisoned and upon release, banned from union activities. In September 2018, authorities in Shmykent opened a spurious criminal case against Erlan Baltabay, the leader of the Independent Oil and Energy Workers’ Union, who spoke critically about harassment at the International Labor Conference in June 2018.
Initially, Erlan Baltabay was convicted on bogus charges for misappropriation of funds in retaliation for his trade union work and support for leaders of the dissolved Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Kazakhstan (KNPRK). He was sentenced him to prison for seven years and banned from any public activity, including trade union activities.
Baltabay was released from prison in August 2019 after being pardoned by the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, following a massive international union campaign for the liberation of the union leader. However, Baltabay's release from prison in August did not put an end to legal procedings. The remaining portion of his seven-year prison term was replaced by a fine.
Baltabay insists on his innocence and refuses to pay the fine or recognize the presidential pardon. He wishes to appeal, prove his innocence and restore his fundamental rights. Instead, on 16 October he was given a new prison sentence of five months and eight days for failing to pay the fine. Three activists, Nurbek Kushakbaev, Amin Eleusinov, and Larisa Kharkova, remained banned from leading trade unions.
The international trade union movement launched a few days ago a global LabourStart campaign in support of Erlan Baltabay. Sign the campaign here (English version).