23 March, 2020On 20 March, Erlan Baltabay, leader of the Independent Oil and Energy Workers’ Union in Kazakhstan, was released from prison.
IndustriALL and the ITUC have repeatedly denounced the charges, intimidation and persecution, as acts of retaliation for Erlan Baltabay’s trade union activism and principled position in support of other leaders of the now dissolved Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Kazakhstan (KNPRK), condemned to different limitations on their freedoms.
Baltabay was sentenced to seven years in prison and banned from any public activity, including trade union activities, in July 2019, after being convicted on bogus charges for misappropriation of union funds.
The sentence came a month after the ILO called on the Kazakhstan government to ensure that the trade unions “enjoy the full autonomy and independence of a free and independent workers’ organization, without any further delay”.
Although Baltabay was released from prison under a pardon decree issued by Kazakhstan president in August 2019, following a massive international union campaign for the liberation, his rights were not reinstated.
The status of a convicted criminal remained, together with a ban on trade union activities. The remaining time of his seven-year prison term was replaced by a fine, which Baltabay refused to pay. Baltabay refused to recognize the presidential pardon and wanted to appeal his initial sentence, to prove his innocence and restore his fundamental rights.
Instead, in October, Baltabay was given a new prison sentence of five months and eight days for failing to pay the fine. He served his new prison term in full, but is still banned from any public activity, including trade union activities, for the next seven years.
IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Ozkan says:
“Erlan’s release is good news, even though it is too late. This does not mean that everything is resolved; our campaign will continue until the repression against independent and democratic union leaders ends in Kazakhstan, a country with some of the harshest labor rights’ violators in the world.”