As events in Kazakhstan continue to spook neighboring Central Asian countries whose populations suffer almost identical social grievances, including grand corruption, increasing poverty, and soaring fuel prices, efforts of Uzbekistan’s authorities to stifle criticism of its government have been gathering pace long before the unrest in Kazakhstan erupted in early January of this year. Despite President Mirziyoyev’s much lauded reform program which has focused mainly on the economy, civil and political reforms have lagged well behind. Freedom of speech, freedom of association and the right of civil society groups to register formally as NGOs have failed to see any relaxation of draconian, Soviet-style rules of play. Indeed, the Uzbek government appears to have stepped up its control over the Internet and bloggers and journalists repeatedly receive “invitations” from the authorities to remind them of the boundaries of what they may report on.
The Confederation of Labour of Russia (KTR) and its member organizations have watched the recent events in Kazakhstan with great pain and anxiety. The KTR has for many years been involved in the campaign to build an independent trade union movement in Kazakhstan and to promote and enforce labour and trade union laws that would benefit Kazakhstani workers. The KTR’s long engagement and cooperation with dozens of trade union organizations and thousands of activists in Kazakhstan have shown us that the processes underway there have a direct bearing on progress in labour relations not only in Russia, but also throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
The main goal of the Human Rights Alliance will be to facilitate honest and impartial identification of the timeline and course of protests; to analyze law enforcement actions as well as actions of various groups of protesters, reasons behind peaceful protest turning into violent riots; to ensure respect for fundamental rights during investigation and that all the standards of fair trial are in place; to prevent torture and ill-treatment, to guarantee accountability of perpetrators for committed crimes and offences, to guarantee fair and just prosecution of perpetrators and exoneration of innocent individuals; to clearly distinguish peaceful protesters, including political opposition members and civic activists, from those who committed acts of violence.
The Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia analyzed the events that took place in Kazakhstan in the first days of 2022. The statement of the largest trade union center of Russia, posted on the official website of the organization, expresses sympathy for the Kazakh people. “The FNPR expresses sympathy for the fraternal Kazakh people, mourns with them for the victims of the riots. We support the statements of the Kazakh trade unions, which give their assessment of what happened. But at the same time, we in Russia must draw important and hard-hitting conclusions for ourselves. Benefits for employees! Rights for trade unions! Strength to the country!” the document says.
Nearly 8,000 people have been detained and more than 160 people have been killed following mass protests triggered by a doubling of gas prices in Kazakhstan. The violent response yet again stresses the need for democracy and recognition and respect for fundamental human and workers’ rights in the country.
The ITUC deplores the killing of more than 160 people in the recent violence in Kazakhstan and calls for a full, open and public inquiry into the circumstances of all the deaths, as well as the damage to public and private property.
On 8 January, people in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan’s capital, woke up with a slow but steady internet connection. Like their fellow countrymen, they had been sealed off from internet communications for almost three days, as the emergency in the Central Asian state worsened. In the business capital, Almaty, violent clashes had set the city ablaze for three days and internet connection continued to be down. Only subscribers to certain mobile operators could be reached in other cities in Kazakhstan and abroad, keeping residents and observers in a frightening state of blackout broken only by gunshots and sirens.
Human rights activist Umida Niyazova spoke to Fergana News about a recent trip to her homeland and her impression of new realities after many years in exile. The course towards greater openness and liberalization in Uzbekistan following the change of power in 2016 presented political emigrants with the possibility of returning to their homeland, at least for a short time. Some of them took the risk and then, with pleasant surprise, reported how they could cross of the border smoothly, easily register at their place of accommodation, and the lack of attention paid to them by the security forces, at least not that they noticed. Their stories were optimistic and the number of dissidents and political refugees visiting Uzbekistan slowly began to grow.
16 December marks the ten-year anniversary of the tragedy in Zhanaozen, Kazakhstan, where police opened fire on protestors, killing 17 and injuring more than 100 workers. The violence ended a seven-month long strike, involving more than 3,000 workers demanding a wage increase.
The participants of the Fifth Coordination Meeting of the International Labour Rights Monitoring Mission for Central Asia who gathered in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) or joined it online on December 07, 2021, representing independent unions and human rights organisations from Kazakhstan, Russia, Germany, France, USA, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine note that despite a certain progress achieved in ensuring the respect of fundamental labour rights in the Central Asian countries, particularly, the restriction of child and forced labour by the Government of Uzbekistan, the cessation of overt repressions against union activists in the Republic of Kazakhstan, and the veto of the proposed anti-worker Law on Trade Unions by the President of the Kyrgyz Republic, the general situation vis-à-vis the observance of labour rights in the region remain alarming.