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Union leaders in Kyrgyzstan must be released immediately

11 December, 2023Union leader Eldar Tadjibaev, chair of the Mining and Metallurgy Trade Union of Kyrgyzstan (MMTUK), was arrested together with several other union leaders on 6 December, as part of increasing pressure on unions and restrictions of freedom of association in the country.

Under the banner of fighting corruption, law enforcement agencies in Kyrgyzstan are interfering in unions' internal affairs to remove union property and replace all leaders of branch trade unions with people loyal to authorities.

As deputy chair of the Federation of the Federation of Trade Unions of Kyrgyzstan (FTUK), a voluntary position, Eldar Tadjibaev has dealt with issues related to reforms in the trade union system. In this role, he has been accused “of corruption, creating a threat to the interests of society or the state and causing serious harm”.

A criminal case against him has been initiated, based on his participation in the vote of a sale of a plot owned by the FTUK. As a union is free to sell it property, accusations against union leaders acting within the framework of union charters are baseless.

IndustriALL considers arrests of union leaders and the pressure to resign as an illegal interference in the affairs of trade unions to restrict the freedom of association, a gross violation of both national law and ILO Conventions ratified by Kyrgyzstan. In this respect, we also consider the arrested MMTUK chair Eldar Tadjibaev a political prisoner.

With support from the international labour movement, unions in Kyrgyzstan have struggled against an anti-union draft law since 2019.

In 2020, the MMTUK filed a case (ILO Complaint #3386) with the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association, exposing the systematic violations of trade union rights in the country, particularly violation on freedom of association and harassment of trade union leaders. As a result, the President of Kyrgyzstan vetoed the law on trade unions three times in 2021. If adopted, the law would seriously undermine freedom of association in Kyrgyzstan and deprive unions of their independence.

The situation deteriorated in 2023, with new attempts to take control over trade unions. In October, Kyrgyzstan’s law enforcement agencies visited union offices to seize the last ten years’ financial documents, effectively paralyzing the activities of trade unions, in blatant violation of national and international law.

On 11 October, new amendments to the law on trade unions were submitted for public discussion. Unions have reported multiple contradictions to the Constitution of Kyrgyzstan and the ILO Convention 87 ratified by Kyrgyzstan.

IndustriALL general secretary Atle Høie says:

“IndustriALL calls on to immediately release Eldar Tadjibaev from his unlawful detention, to withdraw all charges against him, and to put an end to interference in the affairs of trade unions from any third party, in compliance with national law and ILO Conventions ratified by Kyrgyzstan.”