A labour union leader in Kazakhstan who helped mobilize oil workers into defending their right to independent union representation has been sentenced to two years in jail on charges including embezzlement.
Speaking briefly after the verdict in an Astana courtroom on May 16, Amin Yeleusinov expressed despair at the outcome of his trial.
“What to do? What choice is there?” he told a reporter with RFE/RL’s Kazakhstan service, Radio Azattyk.
In addition to finding Yeleusinov guilty of stealing 14.6 million tenge ($46,700) from his employer, Oil Construction Company (OCC), Judge Gulzhan Ubashayeva also ruled that the union leader had offended public officials, disobeyed a public official, and used force against a public official. On top of his prison sentence, Yeleusinov is being ordered to pay $26,000 in damages.
Yeleusinov, 55, was arrested in January as part of a crackdown that brought a close to the weeks-long strike in western Kazakhstan mounted by OCC workers determined to keep their own independent union instead of being compelled to join one given the blessing of the authorities. He has denied all the charges leveled against him.
Human Rights Watch has described the case against Yeleusinov as politically motivated and part of an “ongoing crackdown on independent labor movement in Kazakhstan.”
“Yeleusinov is the second trade union leader to be imprisoned in Kazakhstan in the last two months,” Mihra Rittmann, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “Kazakh officials should know that imprisoning trade union leaders in retaliation for legitimate trade union activities is a serious violation of the right to freedom of association.”
The circumstances surrounding Yeleusinov’s arrest and subsequent treatment in prison have raised concerns about violations of the union leader’s legal rights.
A note surfaced online in February purporting to be a signed confession by Yeleusinov. In the letter, Yeleusinov appears to state that he agreed with an accountant at his company to go halves on 14 million tenge belonging to the union that he led. Yeleusinov later disavowed the letter, and his lawyer, Gulnar Zhuaspayeva, registered her protest at how the confession had been drafted in the absence of a legal brief.
“This admission is unlawful from a legal standpoint. It was produced deliberately to undermine Yeleusinov’s authority in the eyes of oil workers,” she told Radio Azattyk.
Yeleusinov’s close ally at the OCC union, Nurbek Kushakbayev, was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in jail in April for his role in an unrelated labor dispute.
The court in Astana ruled on April 7 that Kushakbayev had violated the law by encouraging workers at Techno Trading Ltd, a oil services company based in western Kazakhstan, to participate in an unauthorized strike.