Violence against trade union leaders takes place around the world on a daily basis. Three international campaigns on the “LabourStart” website are asking for workers’ solidarity and support at the click of a button.
Belarus: Over 12 trade union activists arrested
April 19, 2022 was a dark day in the history of trade unions in Belarus. The state's security service arrested more than a dozen union activists, including almost all union leaders. Among the detainees are Alexander Yarashuk, President of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (BKDP), Siarhei Antusevich, Vice-President of the BKDP, and Aliaksandr Bukhvostau, head of the Free Trade Union of Metalworkers (SPM), who was hospitalized following a heart problem.
Since 1994, Belarus has been ruled by dictator Alexander Lukashenko. Russia's attack on Ukraine was also in the background of the arrests. Belarus borders both countries and has given Putin its backing. Despite facing of the forces of the dictatorship, the trade unions provide an alternative voice of freedom and equality in Belarus. Even despite political pressure, the BKDP stood up against the Russian invasion of Ukraine and demanded Belarus to leave Russian forces.
The campaign for the release of the union leaders has garnered nearly 10,000 supporters and calls for the immediate release of these detained union members.
Kazakhstan: Union leaders arrested after organizing protest
Erzhan Elshibayev, a human rights and workers' rights activist in Kazakhstan, has been imprisoned for more than two years.
In 2019, he was one of the organizers of the demonstrations in the city of Zhanaozen in which the demonstrators demanded higher wages for local workers as well as job creation and fighting against unemployment. The city of Zhanaozen, located in western Kazakhstan, in the center of an oil-rich region, holds the highest unemployment rates in the country. The anger of the residents over their situation led them to protest.
In October 2019, Elshibayev was sentenced to five years in prison for allegedly assaulting an anonymous person. According to him and other human rights activists, these accusations are part of Kazakhstan's persecution of leaders of civilian protest activities. Elshibayev's persecution continues even during his imprisonment – he complains of harassment by the guards. Elshibayev inflicted bodily harm on himself in order to protest the terms of his imprisonment and turn the spotlight on his condition. The prison administration interprets his actions as a "deliberate violation of the procedures and instructions of the guards" and his imprisonment has been extended.
The LabourStart global campaign seeks to send a message to the President of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, calling for an end to the persecution of Elshibayev and can be signed at the click of a button.
Iran: They took part in the May Day celebrations and were imprisoned
Workers' rights leaders, Haleh Safarzadeh and Alireza Saghafi, have been jailed and are seeking worldwide support for their release. Safarzadeh is a teacher, and Saghafi is a writer and car mechanic, working with the KANOON Center for Workers' Rights and informing workers about their basic rights and protecting victims of oppression. The two took part in the May Day celebrations in Iran three years ago. Along with other rights advocates, their participation in the organization was banned on April 26, 2019.
— AVA TODAY (@ava_today) May 8, 2022
The two, who have been imprisoned repeatedly for many years, were tried and convicted later that year on false charges of propaganda against the system. On March 11, 2022, they were immediately taken without warning to Kachuei Prison in Karaj to serve one year's prison sentences and are now in prison.
Saghafi suffers from hypertension and heart problems, and is deprived of the urgent medical care he needs. The May 1, 2019 crackdown on defenders of civil rights and labor rights was a prelude to the brutal suppression of the mass demonstrations that swept through Iran in November of that year, in which hundreds of workers were killed and thousands arrested. This repression increased significantly in 2022.
The LabourStart campaign seeks to send a message to the Iranian government calling for the release of these two leaders.
This article was translated from Hebrew by Benji Sharp.