Kazakhstan: Judicial harassment of Ms. Larisa Kharkova

04/10/2017
Urgent Appeal

KAZ 003 / 1017 / OBS 107
Judicial harassment /
Arbitrary detention / Threats
Kazakhstan
October 4, 2017

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Kazakhstan.

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the judicial harassment of Ms. Larisa Kharkova, President of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of the Republic of Kazakhstan (KNPRK), as well as threats against her relatives and colleagues. KNPRK is the country’s largest independent trade union confederation. Under Ms. Kharkova’s leadership, the confederation has publicly criticized the 2014 Law on Trade Unions [1] and the restrictions to freedom of association in Kazakhstan [2]. In January 2017, Kazakh authorities shut down KNPRK for failing to comply with the restrictive 2014 Trade Union law. In June 2017, this decision was recognized by International Labour Organization (ILO) as a clear violation of the its Convention 87 on freedom of association.

According to the information received, on September 29, 2017, the South Kazakhstan Regional Appeal Court in the city of Shymkent upheld a sentence providing four years of restricted movement, a five-year ban on holding office in any NGO or public organisation and 100 hours of forced labour per year during four years against Ms. Larisa Kharkova, for “abuse of office” (Article 250 of the Criminal Code). A first instance court had convicted her on July 25, 2017 under the same above-mentioned charge (see background information).

It is also reported that before the appeal trial started, several acts of intimidation took place against KNPRK members and against Ms. Kharkova’s relatives. On September 12, 2017, in Almaty, an explosive-looking device was found at the bottom of the car of KNPRK Press Secretary’s husband. The police, firefighters, mine-clearing experts, representatives from the Ministry of Emergency Situations of Kazakhstan and other officers from the operational response were called up. After one hour, police officers announced that they had not found any explosive in the device. They took the package and refused to show its content.

Two days later, on September 14, 2017, a car owned by Ms. Larisa Kharkova’s son, Vladimir, caught fire in Ms. Kharkova’s mother courtyard in Shymkent under suspicious circumstances. Firefighters put out the fire and police officers inspected the location of the incident in the evening of the next day. After examining the place of the fire and the burnt-out car, they took a statement from Vladimir, and left. As of publication of this Appeal, it is unclear whether an investigation in the matter had been opened.

The Observatory fears that the above-mentioned charge has been pressed against Ms. Larisa Kharkova solely in reprisal for her defense of trade union rights, and that KNPRK’s colleagues and her family have been targeted to intimidate her.

Furthermore, her judicial harassment is part of a wider campaign of harassment against KNPRK and the independent trade union movement (see background information). This takes place in a context of severe limitations to the rights to freedom of association and assembly in Kazakhstan as illustrated by situations such as the conviction of human rights defenders Max Bokayev and Talgat Ayanov [3].

The Observatory urges Kazakh authorities to put an end to all forms of harassment including at the judicial level against Ms. Larisa Kharkova, as well as all human rights defenders, including trade unionists, and to immediately and unconditionally release Messrs. Nurbek Kushakbaev and Amin Eleusinov.

The Observatory further urges Kazakh authorities to allow trade unions to freely organise, ensure full respect for freedom of association and to uphold its international obligations with respect to freedom of association and expression.

Background information:

On January 4, 2017, Shymkent Economic Court shut down KNPRK on allegations that it did not meet legal requirements on registration under the 2014 Law on Trade Unions. This decision was upheld on appeal on March 28, 2017, during a one-hour long court hearing.

On January 9, 2017, Kazakh authorities opened a criminal case against Ms. Larisa Kharkova on charges of “misappropriation or embezzlement of assets” (Article 189 of the Criminal Code) and “fraud” (Article 190 of the Criminal Code), searched her home and confiscated her computer. During interrogation, police officers threatened to take further action against Ms. Kharkova unless she stepped down as confederation president.

On January 20, 2017, Messrs. Nurbek Kushakbaev, KNPRK Deputy Chairman, and Amin Eleusinov, leader of KNPRK’s affiliate union at the Oil Construction Company plant, were arrested in Western Kazakhstan and sent to a pre-trial detention facility in Astana.

Their arrest occurred as they joined a hunger strike launched on January 5, 2017, by about ninety oil workers at the Oil Construction Company in Mangistau region to protest the decision to shut down KNPRK.

On January 22, 2017, the Mangistau Regional Court in Aktau handed down fines ranging from 114 to 288 Euros each, against 15 oil workers for “organising an illegal strike”. During the hearing, a journalist was prevented from entering the courtroom.

On January 23, 2017, the same court ordered 28 other participants to the hunger strike to pay total compensation of more than 3.5 million Tenge (approx. 8,629 Euros) for the damage allegedly caused to the company from the hunger strike. The judge turned down a request from the oil workers to provide them with sufficient time to prepare their defence and to get legal representation, arguing that a civil lawsuit could proceed without a lawyer.

In April 2017, M. Nurbek Kushakbaev was sentenced to two and a half years in prison on charges of “calling for an illegal strike”.

In May 2017, M. Amin Eleusinov was sentenced in a separate trial to two years in prison on charges of “embezzlement of union funds”.

The two have denied the charged pressed against them. In addition, they were both imposed a multi-year ban on trade union activities.

On July 25, 2017, Ms. Larisa Kharkova was sentenced to 100 hours of forced labour per year during four years, four year of restricted movement with confiscation of property and a ban for five years on holding office in any NGO or public organisation by Enbekshi District Court under for “abuse of office”.

Ms. Larisa Kharkova appealed the sentence.

On September 27, 2017, an appeal trial against Ms. Larisa Kharkova opened before the South Kazakhstan Regional Appeal Court, in the city of Shymkent.

During the hearing, Ms. Larisa Kharkova submitted to the court a 36-page long document detailing various violations of her due process and fair trial rights committed during the investigation and first instance trial phases. The hearing was suspended until September 28, 2017 in order for the parties to get familiar with the document.

On September 28, 2017, the judge refused to call one expert witness as requested by Ms. Larisa Kharkova’s lawyers.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Kazakhstan asking them to:

i. Put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Ms. Larisa Kharkova and her relatives, and trade unionists in Kazakhstan;

ii. Immediately and unconditionally release Messrs. Nurbek Kushakbaev and Amin Eleusinov;

iii. Re-register the Confederation of Independent trade unions of the Republic of Kazakhstan and put an end to any form of restriction to freedom of association and expression, in accordance with international human and labour rights standards;

iv. Repeal legal provisions limiting freedom of association including those contained in the 2014 Law on Trade Unions;

v. Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially Articles 1, 5, 6 and 12.2; and

vi. More generally, ensure in all circumstances the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and with international and regional human rights instruments ratified by Kazakhstan.

Addresses:

· Mr. Nursultan NAZARBAEV, President of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Fax: +7 7172 74 56 31 / 74 56 67
· Mr. Kalmukhanbet Kassymov, Minister of Internal Affairs of Kazakhstan. Email: Kense@mvd.kz
· Mr. Zhakyp Assanov, Prosecutor General of Kazakhstan. Fax: +7 7172 506 402
· Mr. Askar Shakirov, Human Rights Commissioner of Kazakhstan. Fax: +7 7172 74 05 48
· Ambassador Ms. Zhanar Aitzhanova, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the UN Office and other international organizations in Geneva. Fax: +41 (0) 22 788 66 02. Email: mission@kazakhstan-geneva.ch
· Ambassador Mr. Almaz KHAMZAYEV, Embassy of Kazakhstan in Brussels. Fax : (+32) 2 374 50 91. Email: brussels@mfa.kz.
· Permanent Delegation of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the OSCE in Vienna. Fax: +43 1 890 80 08 20. Email: kzosce@kazakhstan.at

Please also write to the diplomatic mission or embassy of Kazakhstan in your respective country.

***

Paris-Geneva, October 4, 2017

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
• E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
• Tel and fax FIDH + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80
• Tel and fax OMCT + 41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29

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