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Detained Kazakh Oil Workers Go On Trial

Kazakh oil workers picket in Aqtau on June 2.
Kazakh oil workers picket in Aqtau on June 2.
AQTAU, Kazakhstan -- Hundreds of striking Kazakh oil workers have gathered in the western city of Aqtau to support 30 colleagues on trial for taking part in an "unsanctioned mass gathering," RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports.

Mukhtar Umbetov, head of the local trade union alliance, told RFE/RL that 37 of the hundreds of striking oil workers from the Qarazhanbasmunai Oil Company were arrested in Aqtau on June 5 when police forcibly dispersed demonstrators. Seven of the detainees were released later that day.

The trial of the remaining 30 began on June 6.

Two of the protesters slashed their stomachs during the June 5 standoff with police and have since been hospitalized.

The Prosecutor-General's Office announced that the police action in Aqtau was legal.

The march was called to express worker dissatisfaction with the results of their meeting with regional governor Qyrymbek Kosherbaev on June 3.

They also demanded the rehiring of all workers fired for participating in the strike and the immediate release of jailed union activist Natalya Sokolova, who had provided them with legal assistance.

Sokolova was found guilty on May 24 of "organizing an unsanctioned mass gathering" in front of police headquarters in Aqtau on May 21 and sentenced to eight days in jail.

Her sentence was to have ended on June 1, but local authorities have not released her and say she has since been charged with "igniting social hatred."

Read more in Kazakh here