International condemnation as repression deepens in Kazakhstan

The ITUC has harshly condemned the sentencing of Kazakhstan trade union leader Erlan Baltabay. Efforts to improve freedom of association for working people are once again jeopardised; but the country’s new leadership could still intervene.

Erlan Baltabay, the leader of the Oil and Energy workers’ union based in the southern city of Shymkent, has today been sentenced to 7 years in prison as well as to a 7-year ban on conducting any public activity. The trade union which he led was dissolved by the court amid a broader crackdown on independent trade union activity. The criminal proceedings against Baltabay were opened in retaliation for his trade union activism and principled position in support of other leaders of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Kazakhstan (CITUK) condemned to different limitations of their freedoms. These criminal proceedings, as well as those against CITUK’s Larisa Kharkova, Amin Eleusinov and Nurbek Kushakpaev, silence and repress leaders of independent trade unions and prevent others from taking an active role in implementing real freedom of association in the country.

“It is an outrage that the independent voices of working people are being systematically smothered. Kazakhstan’s repression is internationally recognised, and instead of deepening this crisis, the country’s new leadership must step in to build social consensus and resolve the situation by committing to a rights-based approach. This is a defining first test for recently elected President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev,” said Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary.

International pressure has been mounting for the Kazakhstan government to address the situation. In 2017, Baltabay himself testified at the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) about the repressive measures that the government has imposed on independent trade unions in Kazakhstan. At the ILO centenary conference last month, Kazakhstan was singled out and sanctioned for “its persistent lack of progress” towards addressing abuses of core labour standards on freedom of association and the right to organize. The charges against Baltabay have also been condemned by Human Rights Watch.

“The international labour movement abhors this latest abuse and we are ready to defend our fellow workers in their struggle. It is not too late for the government to address the situation, and we are willing to assist, but the government must give a strong signal that it is ready to treat working people, not as subjects to be dictated to, but as citizens, with rights to be respected. Kazakhstan was recently once again recognised by the ITUC rights index as among the top-10 workers’ rights oppressors in the world. Kazakhstan’s international partners, including EU and OECD countries, are on notice about persistent violations of its international obligations and failure to respect international labour standards” concluded Burrow.

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