The labour movement in Kazakhstan today  marks the third anniversary of the state murder of at least 17 demonstrators in 2011. The shootings, at Zhanaozen in the west of the country, put an end to a seven-month strike by several thousand oil workers.

The Zhanaozen massacre was followed by the arrest, torture and jailing of activists in 2012. The biggest strike in post-Soviet Kazakhstan’s history gave way to the harshest wave of repression.

Almost all of those jailed are now free. But trade unionists and human rights campaigners continue to demand justice for those murdered and tortured, an investigation of the inhuman and illegal state repression, and the reversal of fraudulent trial verdicts.

The jail sentences, of up to six years, were handed down in June 2012, at the end of a trial of 37 oil workers and others on charges arising from the clash with the police on 16 December 2011. The judge ignored lawyers’ protests that defendants had been tortured in pre-trial detention.

Defendants at the trial of the 37. Photo: Civic Solidarity Platform

Defendants at the trial of the 37. Photo: Civic Solidarity Platform

Roza Tuletaeva, a union activist who received one of the longest sentences, was last year transferred from prison to an open penal colony, and last month (November 2014) released early, following an international protest campaign. Two workers from Zhanaozen – Kanat Zhusipbaev and Shabdal Utkilov – are reportedly still behind bars. Three more, from the nearby settlement of Shetpe, are presumed to be in prison and are due for release this year or next.

The multiple breaches by the state forces of human rights principles and of Kazakh law are summarised in this article by Erlan Kaliev, a human rights activist who took part in the civil society commission formed to negotiate a settlement to the strike in November 2011, was an observer at the oil workers’ trial, and has campaigned on legal issues arising from the Zhanaozen events.

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