Kazakhstan: Oil Workers Shot and Killed in Zhanaozen

Oil Workers Shot and Killed in Zhanaozen

Killings took place after a strike at OzenMunaiGas a subsidiary of the state oil and gas company in May 2011 when over a dozen workers went on hunger strike demanding a revision of the workers collective agreement and changes in the system of remuneration. Later thousands of workers joined the strike. The strike was declared illegal whereupon the workers were compelled to relocate to Zhanaozen central square from where they were forcibly dispersed. In December 2011 police opened fire on oil workers demonstrating in the same square. Widespread solidarity actions took place in Russia and Europe in the wake of the anti-worker repression in Kazakhstan. Subsequently in June 2012 a Kazakhstan court convicted 34 oil workers and others on charges which included ‘organising and participating in mass unrest’ They were given sentences of between three to seven years. This was done despite the use of testimony obtained by torture and ill-treatment. Already on May 17 an Aktau court sentenced the former head of the Zhanaozen temporary detention facility to five years in prison in relation to the death of a detainee following the clashes. On May 28 five police officers were convicted of abuse of power with the use of weapons and special equipment and sentenced to between five to seven years in prison.

Workers activists are concerned that the authorities may be concealing the bodies of fallen comrades and innocent civilians, as had happened during the events of 1989. Then troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs also shot civilians and hid the bodies in secret locations. Already then Nazarbaev was in power in the country, a member of the Central Committee of the Kazakhstan Communist Party, and oversaw the suppression of social unrest. Today history repeats itself; only this time the oil workers under strike and local civilians have become the victims. Now the main task of the newly formed Commission of Independent Unions and the opposition is not to allow the cover up of the true scale of the atrocities by the hands of the authorities.

How about the real number of victims? As of today (December 21st 2011, our note) there are serious grounds for concerns, as only in Zhanaozen hundreds of people are considered missing. These cannot be located by their relatives in hospitals, morgues, jails and police stations. The bodies of those who are known to have died in hospitals because of injuries are not given to the relatives; this can also be considered as an insult to those families, the majority of which observe Muslim traditions. Reports about fatalities, the injured and people missing continue to arrive from the village of Shetpe, where during the night of the 17th to the 18th workers and troops clashed. In the mean time original reports about 70 fatalities have been confirmed by the mass media, witnesses among the local workers, villagers and relatives.

During the evening of December 18th an activist from the Mangistaus region, K. Sholpan, was able to give us a call. She reported that about forty people with severe injuries from firearms are still in hospital. This number does not include people injured who have been released from hospital. That day her husband was supposed to undergo surgery to extract a bullet from a Kalashnikov stuck in his belly. During the course of December 16th and 17th  the injured were taken to the regional hospital, which is located 120 kilometres away from the location where the violence took place. It was then when the local hospital and all medical establishments of Zhanaozen were overwhelmed by the injured, running out of medicines and other basic means to treat injuries.

According to her during the first half an hour of clashes in Zhanaozen 22 people were killed, one person died in the way to the hospital in Aktau, three young lads and a young female died of gunshot wounds near a supermarket. Three young workers and the mother of an oil worker died in her arms. Also an 11-year-old girl, whose head was severely damaged by a bullet, was lying lifeless. Towards the evening of December 16th, when marines and troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs entered the area with heavy armour the number of victims had reached 70. The police and the military even shot people who did not participate in the protests. Workers and relatives moved a large fraction of the bodies from the central areas of the city to the outskirts when the shooting started.

During the evening of December 16th and all night of December 17th shooting spread to the suburbs and residential areas of Zhanaozen, where young workers tried to resist government troops. At that time the number of fatalities surpassed 100 people. Many people among those who participated in the clashes are missing. A Commission has been formed of representatives of the local independent workers union «Aktau», of representatives of opposition parties and social organisations. This Commission intends to collect data regarding the number of fatalities, missing, injured people and those who are currently under arrest. Relatives are planned to get together to compile a list of individuals affected by the violence. However, the authorities do not allow funerals. This raises serious concerns that the authorities are hiding the bodies of missing people.

Journalists of the independent and foreign press, civil rights advocates, members of the workers’ committee of oil workers and the union «Aktau» are putting together all available data, statements of witnesses, photographs, videos. There is a significant risk that members of the leadership of the independent union and activists of the Commission may become targets, since in the cities of Zhanaozen, Shetpe and Zhetybae workers and individuals who participated in the gatherings and demonstrations are being arrested massively. We will continue to oversee the situation and to convey it as widely as we can both in our country and internationally.

Press Service of the Socialist Movement of Kazakhstan. Circulated by ‘Proletarskaya Gazeta’, Leningrad, December 21st 2011.

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