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Jailed Kazakh Trade Unionist Faces New Charge As Oil-Worker Strike Continues

Jailed Kazakh trade union activist Natalya Sokolova
ALMATY/QARAZHANBAS, Kazakhstan -- A jailed Kazakh trade union activist, who was due to be released, has had a new criminal case launched against her, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports.

Natalya Sokolova was found guilty on May 24 of "organizing an unsanctioned mass gathering" in front of police headquarters in the western city of Aqtau on May 21 and sentenced to eight days in jail. Her sentence was to have ended on June 1.

Sokolova was providing legal support to employees at the Qarazhanbas oil and gas field in the western Manghystau region, who have been striking for three weeks.

Sokolova's husband, Vasily Chepurnoi, told RFE/RL by phone on June 1 that, instead of releasing the trade unionist, authorities in Aqtau launched another criminal case against her, charging Sokolova with "igniting social hatred."

Chepurnoi said Sokolova was taken to the Manghystau regional Interior Ministry department on May 31 and kept for several hours. Police later informed him about the new charge against his wife.

Chepurnoi also said that police visited his apartment on May 31 and confiscated his wife's two mobile phones, his son's personal computer, and a laptop.

He added that about 20 kilograms of documents were taken from the apartment by police.

According to Chepurnoi, the charges against his wife are politically motivated as the local authorities and the leadership at the Qarazhanbasmunai oil and gas corporation want to keep her jailed while the workers are on strike.

Baibol Sultanov, an investigator into Sokolova's case, refused to comment to RFE/RL about her situation.

Meanwhile, the strike is continuing and the workers say they plan a mass protest in Aqtau on June 2 to demand Sokolova's immediate release.

Read more in Kazakh here