Countries which denied workers access to justice increased from 52% of countries in 2015 to 65% of countries in 2021.
Access to justice and due process of law are basic principles of the rule of law. In their absence, people are unable to have their voice heard and to assert their rights. In 97 countries out of 149, workers had no or reduced access to justice, and the due process of law and justice was denied. Trade union leaders were often detained and prosecuted on trumped-up charges, and their trials were frequently fraught with disregard for due process and with lack of impartiality.
83% of countries in the Middle East and North Africa denied workers access to justice.
In Iran, Tehran teacher union leader Esmail Abdi was released from Evin prison in Tehran on 17 March 2020. Imprisoned since 20 January 2018, Abdi was initially arrested in connection with his union activities for teachers’ rights. Despite his release in March, Abdi was again required to report to prison on 21 April and was kept in detention with no official indictment and no access to his lawyer. This new arrest came upon a new wave of state repression against prominent labour activists in Iran, just before May Day.
76% of countries in Africa denied workers access to justice.
On 27 July 2020, the Zimbabwean ruling party, ZANU-PF, convened a press conference in which the spokesperson, Patrick Chinamasa, attacked and labelled the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) a “Trojan Horse of the MDC-Alliance and a terrorist organisation together with the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition”, a civil society organisation.
On the same day, the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) issued a statement that they were hunting down ZCTU president Peter Mutasa, as well as Obert Masaraure and Robson Chere, leaders of the Amalgated Rural Teachers Union (ARTUZ), with regard to the 31 July 2019 strike. The day after, police began a manhunt for ZCTU member Godfrey Tsenengamu, Peter Mutasa and eleven other political and union members, requesting members of the public to supply information on the location of the activists. No statement was released on the reasons behind this manhunt.
Moudi Moussa, journalist and trade unionist, and Halidou Mounkaila, leader of the teachers' union (SYNACEB), took part on 15 March 2020 in a demonstration in Niamey, Niger, to demand an investigation into allegations of embezzlement by the Ministry of Defence. The rally was violently repressed by security forces. A dozen people, including Moussa and Mounkaila, were arrested and charged with “organising an unauthorised rally, complicity in damaging public property, arson, and homicide with extenuating circumstances”. While the detained protesters were released on 30 April, Moudi Moussa, and Halidou Mounkaila remained behind bars for another five months and were only released on 29 September 2020 after sustained international mobilisation.
76% of countries workers in the Americas denied workers access to justice.
In 2019, Moisés Sánchez, general secretary of the Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Agroindustria y Similares (STAS) at Fyffes melon fields in Choluteca, Honduras, was indicted on fabricated criminal charges for “land usurpation” following his support for the construction on an access road through his village of La Permuta, in November 2018, to facilitate access of locals to farms and fields. Sánchez faced up to thirty years in prison. The trial scheduled for 22 January 2020 did not take place due to national and international pressure. These spurious charges were the latest attempt in the long-standing campaign to destroy STAS.
Sánchez, who survived a machete attack by assailants in 2017, the year he was also fired by Fyffes, has again been the target of surveillance and threats since October 2019. The fruit company Fyffes employs more than 6,500 people on insecure contracts in melon cultivation in Honduras. The company has always been hostile towards the STAS.
74% of countries in Asia-Pacific denied workers access to justice.
On 3 July 2020, the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, signed the Anti-Terrorism Act, a law that gravely undermines civil liberties and endangers rights at work by placing workers, trade union activists and other human rights actors and defenders under pressure from the police, the military and other security forces and exposes them to more arbitrary arrests, indiscriminate and baseless attacks, harassment, intimidation and extrajudicial killings.
Under the Act, an “Anti-Terrorism Council” appointed by the president can order the arrest of anyone designated a “terrorist” without a warrant or due process and hold them for up to 24 days. The law applies as well to alleged “incitement” "by means of speeches, proclamations, writings, emblems, banners or other representations tending to the same end", opening the way to even greater suppression of all forms of dissent and civic and social activism. Conviction under the law carries a penalty of up to twelve years' imprisonment.
On 30 June 2020, China’s top legislature unanimously passed a new National Security Law for Hong Kong, which criminalises virtually any act deemed as a threat to “national security" and provides for maximum penalties of life imprisonment. A year after, it was estimated that 97 Hong Kong rights activists had been arrested under the new law, eight of them being prosecuted. They faced spurious charges, such as money laundering, fraud and publishing seditious words.
In addition, another 10,200 people – 40% of them students – have been arrested in relation to the 2019 anti-extradition bill protests. In total, almost 2,450 have been prosecuted and judicial proceedings have been completed in more than 940 of these cases.
34% of countries in Europe denied workers access to justice.
On the morning of 6 November 2020, the police raided the homes of several members of the Education and Science Workers' Union (Eğitim-Sen), in the Kurdish-majority province of Diyarbakır, detaining twenty-six teachers. The raids were conducted as part of an investigation opened by the Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor's Office on undisclosed grounds. The police also searched the cabinets of teachers in their schoolrooms, while the teachers were taken to Diyarbakır Security Directorate.
On 27 October 2020, Alexander Zhuk, BITU union representative at OJSC Grodno Azot, was abducted on his way to work. By noon it became clear that he had been taken to the prosecutor's office, where he was interrogated by the police and secret services. That evening, Zhuk was officially arrested and taken to the pre-trial detention centre in Oktyabrsky District, where he served a 30-day prison sentence for some unclear alleged administrative offenses.
On 16 February 2020, the office of the Belarusian Radio and Electronic Industry Workers' Union (REP) was raided by police forces. All communication devices and laptops were seized, along with almost all basic documentation, including accounting documents, various printed and campaign materials, and personal money. Officials refused to give a copy of the search record or supply an inventory of the seized items. The same morning, police searched the homes of Vladimir Maley, REP lawyer for the Brest region, and Andrei Komlik-Yamatin, REP union chairman at the Minsk Motor Plant. He was detained for refusing to open the door and sentenced to 25 days of administrative arrest “for disobedience to an order or request of an official on duty”.