Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Saturday demanded [press release] that authorities in Kazakhstan [official website] publicly disclose their reasons for bringing new criminal charges against a group of labor activists and an oil worker who participated in an extended labor strike in 2011. The National Security Committee of Kazakhstan [backgrounder] charged the group with "calling for the forcible overthrow of the constitutional order" for their roles in a labor strike which culminated in violence between protesters and police in December 2011. The unrest occurred in a remote desert oil town of Zhanaozen when oil workers demanded higher pay and better conditions, but the oil company refused and responded by terminating their employment. In January, the men were charged with "inciting social discord." According to HRW, "The vague nature of the charges and lack of transparency in the investigation, including a failure to provide any information on what they allegedly did to justify the charges, raise serious concerns that these charges are arbitrary and politically motivated." If convicted of the new charges, the group faces up to seven years in prison.
Early this month, a court in Kazakhstan sentenced [JURIST report] 13 out of 37 defendants to between three and seven years of imprisonment for their participation in the unrest last December. Kazakhstan has been criticized for its failure to comply with international human rights standards. In April, 47 individuals were sentenced [JURIST report] to 15 years imprisonment for their involvement in terrorist attacks and financing extremist activities. However, the trial and information pertaining to it were not entirely accessible to the public, and the lack of transparency has raised concerns of possible human rights violations. In October, Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev [official website, in Kazakh; BBC profile] signed [JURIST report] into law a bill dissolving religious organizations and requiring re-registration. This new bill and its endorsement by the president drew a number of criticisms that the law unnecessarily limits the freedom of religion. The president's signing came after the country's parliament approved [JURIST report] the bill few weeks earlier.