Oil workers in Kazakhstan face mistreatment and repression [report] at the hands of the government and oil companies, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] said in a report released [press release] on Monday. According to HRW, Kazakh authorities and three companies operating in the oil and gas sector in western Kazakhstan restrict workers' rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression. According to HRW, this was the likely impetus for labor strikes that started in May 2011 and culminated in violent clashes [RFE/RL report, in Kazakh] last December between police and workers that left at least 15 people dead. In a widely circulated video of the clashes police can be seen shooting retreating protesters and beating incapacitated protesters with batons. HRW Central Asia research Mihra Rittmann said:
Oil is fueling Kazakhstan's growing economy, but the government and companies ignore the basic rights of workers who do the difficult and often dangerous work of bringing Kazakhstan's oil to market. Workers' rights are being trampled and they have nowhere to turn to resolve labor disputes.HRW listed the following companies as being complicit in labor violations: Kazakhstan's state oil and gas company, KazMunaiGas Exploration and Production (KMG EP), and China's state-owned CITIC group; Ersai Caspian Contractor LLC, an oil service company that is a partially-owned subsidiary of Italy's Saipem SpA, part of the Eni group; and OzenMunaiGas, a fully-owned subsidiary of KMG EP. HRW also noted the treatment of Natalia Sokolova, a union lawyer at KarazhanbasMunai, who in August 2011 was sentenced to six years of imprisonment [RFE/RL report, in Kazakh] for speaking to oil workers about wage disparities. Despite her lengthy prison sentence, she was released in March [Lada report, in Russian].
Kazakhstan has drawn criticism recently from the international community for its human rights record. In August HRW urged the government of Kazakhstan on to ensure that the upcoming trials of two political activists and an oil worker comport with international legal standards [JURIST report] for fair trials. In July UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called for an independent probe [JURIST report] into the December unrest between oil workers and an oil company. In June HRW demanded [JURIST report] that the National Security Committee of Kazakhstan publicly disclose the reason for bringing new charges against a group of labor activists and an oil worker who participated in the December unrest. The committee charged them with "calling for the forcible overthrow of the constitutional order." Earlier that month a court in Kazakhstan sentenced [JURIST report] 13 out of 37 defendants to between three and seven years of imprisonment for their participation in unrest that occurred last December. Sixteen of the remaining defendants faced conditional sentences [BBC report] while five defendants were given amnesty and three were acquitted. During the trial, relatives of defendants threw bottles at the judge, claiming that the defendants were subject to torture during the investigation. In April 47 individuals were sentenced [JURIST report] to 15 years imprisonment for their involvement in terrorist attacks and financing extremist activities. However, the trial and information pertaining to it were not entirely accessible to the public, and the lack of transparency has raised concerns of possible human rights violations.