Trade union lawyer should be released immediately
Natalya Sokolova, legal representative of a trade union formed by employees of the Karazhanbasmunbay oil company in the Aktau region of Kazakhstan, has been sentenced to six years of imprisonment. - The verdict should be revoked, says Secretary General Bjørn Engesland.
- Mrs. Sokolova has only done her job as a legal representative, protecting the rights of oil workers that are demanding to run their trade union without interference from the director of the company, and to have better working conditions and higher salaries. The authorities must respect rights inscribed in the Constitution as well as protected by international human rights conventions, Engesland continues.
On 8 August, Natalya Sokolova, a legal representative of the trade union "Karazhanbasmunai", was sentenced to six years of imprisonment in a colony of common security. The court found Sokolova guilty of violating two articles of the Criminal Code of Kazakhstan, by inciting social, national, tribal, and racial irreligious enmity (article 164) and violating the regulations of organizing and holding meetings, rallies, pickets, marches and demonstrations (334). She had been held in detention since 24 May.
Reportedly, her trial was held behind closed doors without mass media, oil workers or human rights activists being able to follow the proceedings.
- The Norwegian Helsinki Committee is concerned with Sokolova’s conviction, commented Engesland. Kazakhstan should respect freedom of assembly, freedom of association and freedom of speech of any person. Using the criminal justice system to silence a lawyer’s legitimate and peaceful fight for the rights of the oil workers is not acceptable. We call for the immediate release of Sokolova. Kazakhstan chaired the OSCE in 2010, preceded by pledges to uphold human rights. Unfortunately, this case illustrates lack of respect for basic human rights as well as attacking the legitimate role of human rights defenders.
Since 17 May 2011, oil workers of the trade unions “Karazhanbasminai” and “Ozenmunaygaz” have been striking, demanding improved working conditions and better salaries. As their lawyer, Sokolova organized meetings and gatherings for the oil workers.
Since the beginning of the strikes more the 100 workers were fired from the oil companies.