Tag Archives: Akzhanat Aminov

Support Pussy Riot by all means. But support the Kazakh oil workers too

peopleandnature.wordpress.com
Support Pussy Riot by all means. But support the Kazakh oil workers too
9 August 2012

A court in Mangistau, western Kazakhstan, has rejected appeals by 12 oil workers against prison sentences ranging from two to six years, imposed for their part in last year’s strikes.

One activist, Roza Tuletaeva, had her sentence cut from seven years to five – but her family fear this is part of a campaign to force her to give evidence against political oppositionists in an upcoming trial. Threats against Tuletaeva’s children by the KNB security service have made her suicidal, they warn.

The appeals were heard, and almost all rejected, by judge Maksat Beisembaev in the Mangistau district court on 2 August. The prisoners were not permitted to attend the hearing.

Lawyers appealed against the sentences on the grounds that the defendants had admitted their part in last year’s protests; that they had no previous convictions; that in some cases guilt had not been proved; and that most of the prisoners had underage children and were in many cases the household breadwinner.

The appeal verdicts were another blow to the community of Zhanaozen, the oil town where on 16 December police fired on demonstrators demanding improved wages and conditions, killing at least 16 and wounding at least 64.

Prisoners’ families and other oil workers who crowded the court room told journalists that they were “shocked”. They angrily compared the appeal verdicts with those pronounced on two former akims (mayors) of Zhanaozen, Orak Sarbopeev and Zhalgas Babakhanov, who have both been convicted of large-scale corruption and handed two-year conditional sentences.

Human rights activists fear that the pressure on Tuletaeva by the security forces bodes ill for the trial of political oppositionists Vladimir Kozlov, Serik Sapargali and Akzhanat Aminov. They have been charged with “inciting social conflict”, because they supported last year’s strikes by oil workers.

Tuletaeva’s daughter, Aliya, told opposition newspapers that her mother had telephoned her from detention and said that KNB officers had threatened to “do something” to her children.

Aliya believes that Roza Tuletaeva was threatened by the same KNB officer who was tortured her in pre-trial detention. She also thinks that KNB officers forced her mother to sign a declaration against the opposition politician Vladimir Kozlov, but that they are worried she will renounce it in court.

Thousands of kilometres to the north west, in Moscow, three members of the Pussy Riot feminist punk band, who allegedly sang songs against Russian president Vladimir Putin in a cathedral, are on trial for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”. They face a possible three-year sentence.

Young people all over Europe have demonstrated in support of Pussy Riot, and a good thing too. The band has received support from Madonna and other pop celebrities. I hope we can build the same level of support for Roza Tuletaeva and the other activists in Zhanaozen – on whom the Kazakh authorities, having already perpetrated the dreadful massacre of 16 December, are exacting vengeance.

The contrast between the huge media coverage of Pussy Riot in western Europe, and the near-total silence about Zhanaozen, is stark.

Pussy Riot are cool and photogenic; the oil workers are not. The Pussy Riot trial is easy to access for the western journalists based in Moscow, some of whom can feel smugly superior that – for all of the last forty years or so! – supposedly blasphemous artists are no longer so crudely targeted in western Europe. Not only the liberal newspapers (Guardian, Independent, etc), but even the right-wing Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail, have sympathised.

And there is a political discourse. In the two-dimensional world inhabited by foreign policy “experts”, denouncing Putin is a priority . . . but attacking the Nazarbayev regime in Kazakhstan is more complicated. Putin is against “western interests”, has mistreated “our” oil companies, and has worried Russian private property by jailing oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Nazarbayev has opened Kazakhstan’s doors to foreign investment, and “our” oil companies – British Gas, Agip, ExxonMobil and others – have invested billions in the very western Kazakhstan oil field where the massacre took place.

So I say: support Pussy Riot, by all means. Dance however you want, in a cathedral of your choice. Use irony, blasphemy, conspiracy. . . . But do something about Roza Tuletaeva and the oil workers too. For example, you can:

• Support the on-line protest, demanding a review of unjust sentences, launched by the Confederation of Labour of Russia, the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Kazakhstan and the LabourStart web site.

• Write to the Kazakh government, demanding the release of the jailed oil workers and investigation of the allegations of torture, and send copies to the Open Dialog Foundation which is monitoring events in Zhanaozen and urging international support;

• Especially if you are in the UK, demand that the British government takes action too, as it has close links with Kazakhstan and supports the activity of British oil companies there.

*****

For more information, visit the “Zhanaozen oil workers” site (Russian and some English) 

Information for this article from OD Foundation (here) and Respublika (here and here).

Read why People & Nature, a site about socialism and the natural environment, thinks this is important, here.

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Kazakhstan: Stop police violence against strikers!

www.labourstart.org

Kazakhstan: Stop police violence against strikers

Police attack strikers.On Friday December 16th a celebration of Independence Day in the Western Kazakhstan city of Zhanaozen ended up with violent clashes between police and protesting oil workers who have been striking since May, demanding wage increases. It has been reported that oil workers planned to have a peaceful rally on Zhanaozen’s main square but were attacked. According to report we have received, armed police were sent against the demonstrators. Some reports say the police used their weapons and some protestors were killed or injured.

Please send a message to the Kazakhstan authorities calling on them to cease violence against their own people.

Suggested message:

I call upon the government of Kazakhstan to immediately cease violence against peacefully protesting oil workers and their families in the city of Zhanaozen. I believe that no government should ever use weapons against its own people. Violence against workers exercising their fundamental right to strike is absolutely unacceptable. This situation might have grave social and humanitarian consequences. Therefore I urge you to use all your power to to resolve this situation it in a peaceful and just manner.

Please go here to send this message or your own message to Kazakh authorities.

_____

blog.platformlondon.org

December 16, 2011

London listed oil company at centre of Kazakh crackdowns

 

Today The Guardian reports that at least 10 people have been killed in violent clashes between police and oil workers in Zhanaozen, a small city in western Kazakhstan. Local oil workers have been protesting for higher wages and better working conditions throughout 2011. The oil and gas companies, among them KMG, (KazMunaiGaz) which is 39% owned by investors on the London stock exchange, and Ersai Caspian Contractor, a joint venture owned by Italian firm ENI, have sacked hundreds of workers for striking. Police have responded with arbitrary arrests, detention and shootings. The Financial Times suggests the number of recent casualties could be much higher:

An independent source in Astana put the death count as high as 70, with more than 500 wounded, when police fired on protesters.

In this guest blog, journalist Peter Salmon explores the background and root causes of the strikes and the repression that has rocked the Kazakhstan throughout 2011.

Repression intensifies against Kazakh oil workers’ uprising

by Peter Salmon

The Kazakh authorities have responded to the oil workers’ revolt with arrests, jailings and police attacks on demonstrations, while company managements have sacked hundreds for striking. Despite the repression, the unprecedented wave of protests, which erupted in the oil-producing province of Mangistau in mid-May, was continuing at the time of writing in late August. At the movement’s height in early June, labour movement sources reported that 12-18,000 workers were on strike, demanding pay rises and recognition of independent trade unions.

The protests started on 9 May at Karazhanbasmunai, a joint venture owned by Kazmunaigaz, the main state-controlled national oil company, and CITIC, a Chinese holding company. The immediate spark was Karazhanbasmunai’s refusal to recognise the results of a trade union election that had gone against a collaborationist official. On 9 May, 1400 workers refused to eat lunches and dinners, and on 17 May 4500 walked out. They demanded pay parity with workers at OzenMunaiGaz, KazMunaiGaz’s largest production subsidiary – who themselves had won a substantial increase in basic wages, and torpedoed company plans for a greater element of production-linked pay, with a 19-day wildcat stoppage in March 2010.[i]

On 11 May, activists called for a general strike across Mangistau region. Kazakh workers employed by Ersai Caspian Contractor, a joint venture owned by ENI, the Italian-based multinational oil company, and ERC Holdings of Kazakhstan, joined the protests. They demanded pay parity with foreign employees doing the same jobs, who they said were paid twice as much. Ersai refused to negotiate with the strikers, ten of whom went on hunger strike, and retaliated with sackings, according to a news agency.[ii]

In late May the action spread to the larger workforce at OzenMunaiGaz, where workers – including transport drivers and those conducting well servicing and well workover operations – demanded pay rises to make up for rapid inflation since their increase last year and the slashing of bonus payments. On 24 May a local court declared strike action at the company illegal, but on 26 May there was a mass walkout nonetheless.

The strikers in the three companies advanced various demands. The principle concern at Ozenmunaigaz was for a recalculation of the coefficients (i.e. regional weighting, industry premia, etc) on which pay depends, Kazakhstan’s main business newspaper reported. Other demands reported by the Association of Human Rights for Central Asia included: the right for independent trade unions (the Karakiyak union and others) to function; revision of collective agreements “on the principle of equality of parties”; a 100% wage increase to bring workers’ living standards up to minimum; and for wages and conditions to meet International Labour Organisation standards.[iii]

The strike now turned into a grand battle between the workforce on one side, and the companies and authorities on the other. KazMunaiGaz Exploration and Production (KMG EP), which owns all of OzenMunaiGaz and half of Karazhanbasmunai – and is itself state-controlled but with 39% owned by investors via a London stock exchange listing – announced that it now expected to lose 540,000 tonnes of oil production, 4% of its previously projected total of 13.5 million tonnes in 2011, due to the dispute. Ozenmunaigaz’s output had already fallen by 2% in 2010, mainly due to the strike in that year.[iv]

On 1 June, Natalia Sokolova, a lawyer who had advised the workers, was arrested and both OzenMunaiGaz and Karazhanbasmunai began sacking strikers. Tensions were heightened further when Sabit Kenzhebaev, a transport department manager at Karazhanbasmunai who had been instructed to sack strikers against his will, died of a heart attack. On 5 June, 500 Karazhanbasmunai workers gathered in Aktau, the capital of the Mangistau region, intending to march to the akimat (regional authority) building to protest – but were dispersed violently by police. Three strikers, including the prominent trade union activist Kuanysh Sisenbaev, were admitted to hospital with knife wounds after harming themselves as a protest. Local authority employees were instructed to go to work as strikebreakers, and threatened with sackings if they refused, according to labour movement information networks.[v]

During June, some strikers returned to work, but those who remained out grew more determined. Workers established a “tent city” in Zhanaozen, and on 8 July it was broken up by baton-wielding police – to which about 60 responded by pouring petrol on themselves and threatening to set themselves alight. Another thousand demonstrators were encircled by police outside the OzenMunaiGaz headquarters. There were repeated confrontations between police and a crowd of several thousand in the days that followed.[vi]

The movement has a political aspect. Not only was it first sparked by a row over union representation, and featured demands for the right to organise independent unions, but it has also led to mass resignations from Nur-Otan, Kazakhstan’s ruling political party. Workers at state-controlled enterprises are encouraged to join it, in a manner reminiscent of Communist Party recruitment in the Soviet period – and on 11 August a large group marched to the Nur-Otan regional headquarters in Zhanaozen to hand in their resignations. A spokesman told reporters that 3000 of them had quit, since they had been forced to join anyway, and their demands had not been met. The Nur-Otan regional leader, Koshbai Qyzanbaev, acknowledged only 1089 resignations.[vii]

As the summer wore on, the Kazakh courts and police stepped up repression against activists. Natalia Sokolova, the lawyer assisting the strikers, was on 8 August sentenced to six years in jail for “inciting social discord”; Akzhanat Aminov, a trade union leader at OzenMunaiGaz, and Natalia Azhigalieva, an activist, have been arrested and charged with the same crime, while Kuanysh Sisinbaev has been sentenced to 200 hours’ community service. On 16 August, Zhanbolat Mamay, a 23-year-old activist in an opposition political group, Rukh Pen Til, was arrested as he returned from Moscow – where he addressed a press conference and civil society meetings about the oil industry dispute – and sentenced to 10 days’ administrative detention. According to company statements, 373 OzenMunaizGaz employees and 160 from Karazhanbasmunai have been dismissed for “illegal” strike action. One activist, Zhaksylyk Turbaev, has been murdered by unidentified thugs.[viii]

The oilfield conflict makes a mockery of Kazakhstan’s long-standing efforts to present itself in the west as a democratic state, and human rights organisations in western Europe have not lost the opportunity to point this out. On 6 July, with encouragement from Amnesty International, the rock singer Sting cancelled a planned appearance in Astana at a $700-per-ticket concert, stating that he had “no intention” of crossing “a virtual picket line”. The legal persecution of labour movement activists has been denounced in the European parliament by Paul Murphy, a Socialist Party/United Left Alliance member of the parliament from Ireland visited Mangistau, and others.[ix]

The Kazakh oil workers’ struggle bears out the proposition of the labour historian Beverly Silver that “where capital goes, conflict goes”.[x] Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, western capital has made greater inroads into the oil sector in Kazakhstan than in Russia, where it has been somewhat constrained by statist and nationalist policies. In the last decade it has been joined by a gigantic inflow of Chinese capital. The Kazakh elite, who have been immensely enriched by the oil boom of the last decade, is the third part of the unholy trinity that workers face.

In Mangistau region, oil production has expanded at a healthy pace. But the riches have been divided unequally: while billionaires flourish, and living standards have risen in the new and old capitals, Astana and Almaty, Mangistau has in terms of the UN’s development indicators only been lifted to the national average, from below it. And, staggeringly, although Mangistau produces more oil than any other Kazakh region, in 2008 it had the highest proportion of people living below the poverty line (32.4%) and the worst poverty by the UN’s measures.[xi] The immediacy of this injustice, the stark chasm between rich and poor, and a tradition of worker activism that has resurged in recent years, is a potent mixture that has now exploded.


[i] “V Zhanaozene zakonchilas’ zabastovka neftianikov”, Ak Zhaiyk (Atyrau), 19 March 2010; “V Kazakhstane zavershilas’ dvukhnedel’naia zabastovka neftianikov”, Deutsche Welle web site, 21 March 2010, http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,5376521,00.html; Linksunten, “Kazakhstan: Mass strikes and protest action”, http://linksunten.indymedia.org/de/node/41875.

[ii] Almaz Rysaliev, “Kazakstan’s Unhappy Oil Workers”, Institute for War & Peace Reporting web site, 24 June 2011, http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/4e0b2a552.html; Central Asia Newswire, “Kazakh oil workers begin hunger strike”, 24 May 2011.

[iii] “Bastuiushchie udarili po RD KMG”, Kursiv, 30 June 2011; Nadejda Atayeva, “Kazakhstan: vlast’ massovo raspravliaetsia s bastuiushchimi neftianikami”, http://nadejda-atayeva.blogspot.com/2011/07/blog-post_12.html.

[iv] KMG EP press release, 28 June 2011; KMG EP annual report 2010, p. 26. The 2% fall was in comparison to 2009 output.

[v] “Krovavyi razgon demonstratsii rabochikh v Aktau”, IKD, 5 June 2011, http://www.ikd.ru/node/17048; “V Moskve proidet aktsiia solidarnosti”, IKD, 6 June 2011, http://www.ikd.ru/node/17053; Nadejda Atayeva, “Kazakhstan: bezdeistvie vlastei”, http://nadejda-atayeva.blogspot.com/2011/06/blog-post_5744.html.

[vi] Nadejda Atayeva, “Kazakhstan: vlast’ massovo raspravliaetsia”, op. cit.

[vii] “Striking Kazakh Oil Workers Quit Ruling Party”, 11 August 2011,  Radio Free Europe, http://www.rferl.org/content/striking_kazakh_oil_workers_quit_ruling_party/24294248.html.

[viii] Nadejda Atayeva, “Kazakhstan: bespretsedentnoe davlenie na uchastnikov zabastovki”, http://nadejda-atayeva.blogspot.com/2011/08/blog-post_18.html; “Lider zabastovki neftianikov osuzhden”, Kursiv, 18 August 2011; KMG EP press release, 27 July 2011; “Bolee 400 bastovavshikh uvoleny”, Kursiv, 7 July 2011.

[ix] “Sting nakazal Kazakhstan”, Kommersant, 4 July 2011; the web sites of Sting Symphonicity and Paul Murphy MEP. Sting, who was touring the whole former Soviet Union and did not cancel dates in e.g. Belarus or Uzbekistan, was criticised for being selective in his protest.

[x] Beverley Silver, Forces of Labor: workers’ movements and globalization since 1870 (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2003, p. 41).

[xi] UNDP Kazakhstan, National Human Development Report 2009, pp. 103-109.

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Kazakhstan: Authorities Crack Down on Striking Oil Workers

[Editor’s note: the following press release has been lightly edited to make it more readable.]

13 July 2011

Kazakhstan: authorities engage in violent reprisals against striking oil workers

In Kazakhstan’s Mangistau province, a real threat has emerged to the security and safety of thousands of oil workers participating in a collective action – a strike – which they started on 11 May 2011. Taking part in the strike are oil workers at OzenMunayGaz, Karazhanbasmunay, and Ersay Caspian Contractor (the latter is part of the Italian holding ENI). The workers are continuing a protest action of indefinite duration. The workers on strike are being joined by more and more employees of auxiliary production units and relatives. According to observers, over the past months, eight to fifteen people have taken part. During the strike, some 900 workers have been fired. We have already written about this in the press release “Kazakhstan: inactivity of the authorities pushes oil industry workers to suicide!” (14 June 2011).

This collective action was a response to the inaction of employers – the foreign owners of oil deposits and local authorities. None of these parties has reacted to workers’ demands.

The demands of the industrial action remain unchanged:

  • To allow the creation and functioning of independent trade unions and their structures including the Karakiyak trade union;
  • To revise the collective agreement so that is based on the principle of equality of parties and takes into consideration the interests and rights of the workers;
  • To raise the wages of the workers by 100%, as the current agreement does not provide for actual minimum living standards;
  • To bring wages and other working conditions in accordance with International Labour Standards.

In recent days, alarming events are unfolding in the cities where the enterprises are located and where employees have gone on strike.

At about 16:00 on 8 July 2011, a unit of fully armed special police landed and attacked peaceful citizens in the city of Zhanaozen unexpectedly and without explanation or warnings.

Without entering into negotiations or making demands, policemen started to disperse the gathered people, beating them with clubs. They overturned woks with food prepared by relatives and tore the roof off a makeshift tent where people were sitting. According to witnesses, the police officers’ behavior was aggressive: they were doing this on purpose in order to provoke confrontation. Men and women taking part in the strike tried to stop the police officers but were severely beaten up.  About thirty people were forcibly taken to local hospitals. As of 12 July, a number of the arrested persons have managed to escape from the hospitals.

Realizing that they were outmatched, a group of sixty oil workers on hunger strike poured petrol over their bodies and announced that they were ready to burn themselves up as a sign of protest against the lawlessness and violence of the police.

Over a thousand protesting oil workers were rounded up by the police on the premises of OzenMunayGaz. A special police unit is hindering their communication with the outside world. More than 4,000 people gathered in the main square in Zhanaozen to express their solidarity with the protesting oil workers.

On 9-10 July 2011, after a violent action against the fired employees of OzenMunayGaz (now on hunger strike), a mass meeting followed in the city of Mangistau. Following the violent dispersal of hunger strike participants and sympathizing colleagues, who all this time had been gathering at OzenMunayGaz, city residents started spontaneously flowing into the square in front of the local akimat (city administration) including elderly people, women and children. A fully equipped special police unit brought there on several coaches observed the crowd from a short distance away.

According to striking workers, the reason for the mass discontent was the behavior of the special police unit, which tried to obstruct the traditional “sadaqa” ceremony at the No.5 Oil Wells Directorate No.5 (UOS-5). This was where policemen overturned woks with food and began dispersing people present at the ceremony with clubs.

On 11 July 2011, the crowds of people gathered in the square in front of the Zhanaozen administration building consisted of families including elderly people and children. At the same time, special police units with special equipment were stationed at nearby schools Nos. 9, 18, and 19. According to our information, a water cannon, eighteen firefighting trucks, three military KamAZ trucks, and four coaches with special policemen are hidden in the Kazakhstan gas processing plant (KazGPZ) and ready to start reprisals at any moment.

The unfolding situation poses a threat to the health and safety of active strike participants:

  • Since 25 May 2011, Natalya Sokolova, lawyer of the trade union at Karazhanbasmunay, has been detained under Article 164 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan for “inciting social discord.” There is no information about her condition: she is being denied access to lawyers, relatives and her husband.
  • Kuanysh Sisenbaev, leader of the trade unions of the workers at Karazhanbasmunay, has been subject to the pressure from authorities since 1 July 2011 in the city of Aktau. He is being blamed for organizing a protest march of oil workers that took place in Aktau on 5 June 2011. During the violent reprisals, several demonstrators were arrested by the police. Sisenbaev and two colleagues were driven to suicide, as a result of which they were taken to a hospital. Sisenbaev has been charged under Article 373 of the Administrative Delinquency Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan: “Violation of laws on organizing and conducting peaceful gatherings, meetings, marches, pickets and demonstrations.”
  • On 3 July, Akzhanat Aminov, a leader of the trade union at OzenMunayGaz, was arrested under Article 164 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan “for inciting social discord.” Aminov suffers from diabetes and is in constant need of medical care. Currently, he is being held in a pretrial detention facility. He is being denied medical care, meetings with relatives and a lawyer, which is a form of cruel treatment whose aim is to pressure striking workers.
  • Natalya Azhigalieva, activist of the striking OzenMunayGaz workers and a fifth-class operator at the oil-and-gas production directorate (NGDU) of OzenMunayGaz, has been fired. She was among the thirty detained oil workers who went on hunger strike and who were forcibly taken to a hospital on 8 July in Zhanaozen. On the morning of 11 July, she managed to escape from the hospital, which is under the surveillance of a special police unit. Criminal charges are being fabricated against her under Article 164 of the Kazakh Criminal Code “for inciting social discord.”

According to our observations, in breach of its international obligations, the Republic of Kazakhstan has taken the side of the employer in the industrial dispute and is using law enforcement bodies against trade union activists and striking workers, as well as engaging in violent reprisals against strikes and peaceful protests.

According to our information, during the strike the oil workers offered to start negotiations on peaceful settlement of the dispute. However, Kazakh authorities are ignoring the demands of the workers on strike despite the obligations assumed by the state.

The provisions of international agreements violated by Kazakhstan are as follows:

  • Article 19 (the right to express one’s opinion), Article 21 (freedom of peaceful assembly), Article 22 (freedom of association) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;

  • Nineteen conventions of the International Labor Organization including the fundamental ones:

– Convention 81 (Labor Inspection, 1947), pursuant to which the state in the person of the state labor inspectorate shall undertake relevant measures in case the human rights at work are violated;

– Convention 87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize, 1948), pursuant to which the state shall allow the organization of trade unions of workers created for the protection of their lawful interests and shall recognize them;

– Convention 98 (Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949), pursuant to which employers shall conduct negotiations with workers’ representatives and the state shall be the guarantor of the consultative process;

– Convention 111 (Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958), pursuant to which it shall be prohibited to discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin, which has the effect of nullifying or impairing equality of opportunity or treatment in employment or occupation.

There is well-founded concern that striking oil workers will be driven to despair and to extreme measures inflicting harm to their health, and the authorities will bring violent reprisals against them, thus ignoring their lawful and reasonable demands.

We earnestly ask for your help in urging national human rights protection bodies to respond to this situation to the full extent.

Respectfully,

Lyudmila Kozlovska, Open Dialog Foundation
lyudmylakozlovska@odfoundation.eu

Nadejda Atayeva, Association for Human Rights in Central Asia
n.atayeva@gmail.com

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