Right to civil liberties

Workers striking in Cambodia

Countries arresting and detaining workers increased from 25% of countries in 2014 to 46% of countries in 2023.

Right to civil liberties

Arbitrary arrests, detention and imprisonment

Workers were arrested and detained in 69 out of 149 countries in 2023. A large number of governments increased pressure against workers asserting their rights, and against unions supporting them, by specifically targeting prominent trade union leaders. Trade union leaders have been in imprisoned in Algeria, Belarus, Cambodia, Cameroon, Dominican Republic, Egypt, El Salvador, Eswatini, France, Guinea-Bissau, Iran, Hong Kong, India, Madagascar, Myanmar, Niger, The Philippines, Sri Lanka and South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey Uruguay and Zimbabwe in an attempt to weaken the institutional power of unions

Workers' rights violations

Asia Pacific


78% of countries in Asia-Pacific arrested and detained workers.

Compared with 83% in 2022

Right to civil liberties

On 7 July 2022, Sia Jampathong, president of the Textile, Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation (TGLWF) of Thailand, and four student labour activists were indicted for violating pandemic restrictions on large gatherings during a protest outside the Government House in Bangkok in 2021.

Jampathong did not deny the protest breached the Emergency Decree and the Disease Control Act (precautions were taken, as they wore masks). She believed, however, that the authorities were selectively enforcing the rules to keep the labour movement in line. Jampathong and her fellow activists were targeted after leading a campaign to pay unpaid wages to 1,250 laid-off factory workers. The campaign proved successful and in May 2022 the company was forced to pay up.

Right to civil liberties

In Sri Lanka, on 3 August 2022, police arrested Joseph Stalin, General Secretary of the Ceylon Teachers’ Union (CTU), at the union’s head office. The police claimed the arrest was due to the violation of a court order banning a protest march near the police headquarters on 28 May. The union leader was remanded until 12 August.

The police also arrested the secretary of the Bank of Ceylon branch of the Ceylon Bank Employees Union (CBEU), Dhananjaya Siriwardana, and its former branch president, Palitha Atampala. They were accused of forcibly entering the Presidential residence on 13 July. Both union leaders were released on bail.

Right to civil liberties

On 27 September, Kara Taggaoa and Larry Balbuena were served an arrest warrant and pre-trial order by the Quezon City Regional Trial Court in the Philippines for the alleged robbery of a police officer during a July 2020 rally. Kara Taggaoa was then the spokesperson of the League of Filipino Students and at the time of her arrest was the international affairs officer of Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU). Larry Balbuena was president of the Pasiklab Operators and Drivers Association (PASODA).

On 10 October 2022, the two trade unionists were arrested on criminal charges of “direct assault and robbery”. They pleaded not guilty and were granted bail.

They were re-arrested when leaving the court under a fresh charge of direct assault against a police officer during the same rally in 2020. Both were taken to the custodial facility at Camp Karingal, where they were presented with an un-served arrest warrant, issued on 7 December 2021, and their ID cards were confiscated. Both complaints were filed by Police Chief Master Sergeant Feliciano Evangelio of Quezon City Policy Department who had accused the 2020 protesters of inflicting injury and robbing police officers. They were released on bail on 11 October. Their trial dates have not been scheduled at the time of writing. The charges entail long prison terms.

Right to civil liberties

Khaing Thinzar, head of communications at the Confederation of Trade Unions of Myanmar (CTUM), and Ei Phyu Phyu Myint, a member of the Industrial Workers Federation of Myanmar (IWFM), were ambushed as they took a taxi home after attending a peaceful demonstration on the outskirts of Yangon on 20 April 2022. A car rammed into their vehicle and six soldiers then leapt out of the car, seized the women and beat them, before taking them and the driver into custody.

Both were convicted under section 505A of the Penal Code. They have been tortured and sexually abused during custody. Together with taxi driver Nyan Sein, they were sentenced to three years’ imprisonment with hard labour.

The 20 April demonstration was organised by members of the Myanmar Labour Alliance (MLA), the CTUM and IWFM in protest at the military regime. The Alliance demanded the restoration of a democratic society and end of military rule.

Since the military junta took power in February 2021 dozens of trade unionists have been killed, and tens of thousands of workers taking part in the Civil Disobedience Movement have been dismissed or blacklisted.

Right to civil liberties

On 30 December 2022, central committee member of the Confederation of Trade Unions of Myanmar (CTUM), Moe Gyi, was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment and fined 1 million kyat (US$476) at Dagon Myohit District Court on charges under section 124 of the Penal Code. Under pressure, he resigned from the CTUM central committee.

U Pyi Paing Ko Ko, director of Let’s Help Each Other (LEHO), a member of Myanmar Labour Alliance, was arrested on 3 May 2022 and sentenced to a seven-year imprisonment under section 51C of the Anti-Terrorism Act. Kha Kha, a staff member of LHEO, was under arrest warrant on multiple charges.

Arrest warrants were issued to 29 CTUM central committee members and many more regional federation leaders and labour organisation leaders. Under the Code of Criminal Procedure, amended by the junta on 14 February 2021, offences under sections 505A, 124C and 124D are non bailable and subject to arrest without a warrant.

Right to civil liberties

On 8 December 2022, Thet Hnin Aung, General Secretary of the Myanmar Industries Craft and Services Trade Union Federation (MICS-TUFs) was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment with hard labour and a fine.

Right to civil liberties

Youn Taeg-gun, first vice president of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), was arrested and detained on 4 May 2022 for his leading role in organising a general strike on 20 October 2021. Youn led the strike in part because, at the time, KCTU President Yang Kyeung-soo was in detention on similar charges. Like President Yang, Youn was charged with violation of the Infectious Disease Control Act on Demonstration and Assembly, despite the KCTU’s proper observance of Covid-19 protocols.

On 5 August 2022, the Seoul Central Municipal Court ruled that there was no legal justification to continue to hold Youn. He was released after 94 days in detention, following a strong international campaign on his behalf.

Right to civil liberties

On 25 April 2022, Bongju Lee, President of the Korean Public Service and Transport Workers’ Union Cargo Truckers’ Solidarity Division (KPTU-TruckSol) and Geon-yeong Kim, KPTU-TruckSol Incheon Regional Branch Chair were threatened with arrest by authorities.

The threat of arrest related to protests held more than seven months ago were made despite either man having been formally indicted on charges related to the warrant. Authorities were preparing to make the arrests using powers that allow the police to detain suspects while they are under investigation, though both men had pledged to cooperate fully with any enquiries.

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) intervened to prevent these politically motivated arrests.

Right to civil liberties

In India, police detained 19 people, all members and leaders of the Surat Diamond Workers’ Union (SDWU) and took them to Katargam police station on 2 October 2022. The union had announced it would organise a rally on Gandhi Jayanti day, from Katargam to Hirabaug in Varachha, to press for various demands. The arrests took place before they could even begin the rally. The union’s state president Ramesh Jileria, Surat unit president Bhavesh Tank and the president of the Indian Trade Union Congress (INTUC) in Gujarat, Naishad Desai, were among those present. They were released in the evening.

Among the workers’ and trade unions’ demands were legal protections for diamond workers under labour laws and the abolition of professional taxes on diamond polishers. Katargam police said they had detained the organisers and other members because permission for the rally had been denied for reasons of “law and order”.

Right to civil liberties

In India, Mrinal Kanti Shome, the General Secretary of the Assam Majoori Shramik Union (AMSU) was arrested on 22 May 2022, together with Dharitri Sharma, the Cachar District Committee Secretary of the AMSU. The two men had been at the forefront of protests by tea estate workers at the Dolu tea estate against the illegal acquisition of land for the new Silchar Airport. Nearly 2,000 workers stood to lose their jobs if the acquisition went ahead.

Mrinal Kanti Shome was questioned without any warrant or order and detained for nearly 30 hours without food. Criminal charges were then brought against him for “inciting protests”.

Right to civil liberties

National security police raided the offices of the disbanded Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) on the morning of 31 March 2022. The police also went to the homes of the former chair of the HKCTU, Joe Wong, former vice-chair Leo Tang and ex-treasurer Chung Chung-fai. All three were arrested, taken for questioning, and their homes were searched. Former general secretary Lee Cheuk-yan, who has been imprisoned for a year now for his trade union activities, was also questioned. The national security police also raided 10 premises, including the offices of the union and homes of the four unionists, and took away documents and computers.

The union had allegedly refused to comply with a police request for information based on the Societies Ordinance. They said the police had applied for warrants to search premises related to the organisation.

Police made the data request to HKCTU on 17 February, demanding information about its operations, activities, sources of income and expenditure, as well as any connections with fellow unions and foreign organisations. Five former HKCTU members, including Wong, Tang and Chung, had handed in the group’s reply at police headquarters on 24 March.

The HKCTU was Hong Kong’s largest pro-democracy union coalition, representing almost 100 affiliated organisations with around 145,000 members, before its forced dissolution in October 2021.

Despite disbandment, the Security Bureau issued a statement saying any organisation or its members would “remain criminally liable” for offences committed.

Right to civil liberties

General Secretary of International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF) and former Chief Executive of the now-disbanded Hong Kong Confederation of a Trade Unions (HKCTU), Elizabeth Tang Yin-ngor, was taken away by National Security Police officers on 9 March 2023, after visiting her husband, imprisoned union leader, Lee Cheuk-yan.

Tang was arrested on “suspicion that she had colluded with foreign forces to endanger national security”. Tang had recently returned to Hong Kong after leaving for the United Kingdom in 2021.

Her husband, former HKCTU general secretary Lee Cheuk-yan, is currently detained under the National Security Law. He and two other ex-leaders, Chow Hang-tung and Albert Ho, stand accused of incitement to subversion. The case was transferred to the High Court in September 2022, where the highest penalty for incitement to subversion is 10 years’ imprisonment. Lee was denied bail in December, when a judge ruled there were insufficient grounds for believing that he would not continue to “commit acts endangering national security” if bail was granted.

Tang was released the next day and her computer, mobile phone and passport remain confiscated.

In the week following Tang’s arrest, 13 trade union and labour organisation activists, including from the defunct HKCTU, were taken away by national security police for questioning. The police conducted home searches and took away the computers and mobile phones of the activists.

Right to civil liberties

On 26 November 2022, Chhim Sithar, President of Labor Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees (LRSU) and one of the leaders battling for union rights at NagaWorld Casino Hotel, was detained at the airport in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and then jailed while returning from the ITUC Congress in Melbourne, Australia.

She was rearrested for allegedly violating her bail terms, which arose from bogus charges of “incitement to social chaos”. She had been arrested on 4 January 2022 for organising workers’ strikes at the NagaWorld Casino Hotel. Neither she nor her lawyer were informed of these bail conditions.



60% of countries in the Americas arrested and detained workers.

Compared with 52% in 2022

Right to civil liberties

Uruguayan government officials have engaged in illegal surveillance of Marcelo Abdala, president of Uruguayan trade union federation PIT-CNT and general secretary of National Union of Metal Workers and Related Branches (UNTMRA). In February 2023, Uruguayan media published audio recordings of the former presidential security chief Alejandro Astesiano confirming that he used surveillance cameras from the Ministry of the Interior to follow Abdala’s route on a public highway after he was involved in a traffic accident in February 2022. Trade unions have denounced these acts of surveillance as a serious violation of individual rights and civil liberties.

Right to civil liberties

On 27 October 2022, Jesús Núñez, leader of the Dominican Republic’s pensioned sugarcane workers, was detained at Las Americas International Airport while en route to Cuba for specialised medical treatment. Nuñez is the main leader of the Union of Sugar Cane Workers (UTC), which is carrying out protests in defence of the right to pensions of thousands of sugar cane workers.

The leader was released on the same day, after being notified that an order from the Santo Domingo Sentence Execution Court of 20 August 2018, prevented him from leaving the country. Until this point, Núñez had never been notified of this judicial measure and had successfully left and re-entered the country on a number of occasions in the intervening period, which suggested the arrest had been made in reprisal for his union work.

In March 2019, the Dirección General de Jubilaciones y Pensiones a Cargo del Estado (DGJP) had filed a complaint against Núñez for alleged fraud to the detriment of the state, association of wrongdoers and impersonation. Núñez believed this complaint was also a reprisal intended to intimidate the sugar cane workers’ movement and deter them from seeking the pensions that had been promised.

Right to civil liberties

In El Salvador, two trade union leaders were arrested in their homes. On 6 May 2022, Dolores Almendares, General Secretary of the Union of Workers of the Cuscatancingo Municipal Mayor’s Office, was arrested at her house by police officers claiming they wanted to “clarify a situation”. She was charged with “criminal association”. Previously, the son of the union leader, a minor, had also been arrested.

On 8 May 2022, Geovanni Aguirre, a member of the Union of Workers of the San Salvador Mayor’s Office, was detained a week after attending the 1 May march. The union member had been warned by the municipality that the government would not tolerate participation in the May Day protests. Geovanni Aguirre maintained his decision to participate and was unjustly arrested and detained in the Izalco Penal Center, Santa Ana.

These arbitrary arrests were all made under the emergency laws implemented in the country since March 2022.

Middle East and North Africa


47% of countries in the Middle East and North Africa arrested and detained workers.

No change from 2022

Right to civil liberties

On 19 February 2023, Esther Lynch, ETUC General Secretary, was forced out of the country for addressing a rally organised by the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) to protest against President Kais Saied’s failed policies, a wave of anti-union action by the authorities, and the continued detention of UGTT official Anis Kaabi, who was arrested on 31 January following a strike.

President Saied ordered the expulsion of Lynch over a speech his office called “blatant interference” in the country’s internal affairs.

Saied has, since his 2019 election, eroded and removed key institutions of democracy and assumed complete power for himself. His policies have done enormous damage to Tunisia’s economy, society and the daily life of working people.

On 3 March 2023, the government banned the entry of trade unionists from at least six countries who were due in Tunisia to show solidarity with the ITUC-affiliated UGTT at a weekend rally.

Right to civil liberties

On 31 January 2023, the general secretary of the employees’ union of the Tunisian highway company Tunisie Autoroutes, Anis Kaabi, was arrested in the context of a strike planned by the union on 30 and 31 January. Workers were demanding the renewal of the operating contract for the Tunis-Msaken highway, due to end in 2025, as well as salary increases that had been decided under an agreement concluded between the UGTT and the government in September 2022, and the delivery of uniforms that had been promised five years earlier.

Kaabi’s home was searched by security forces and his family was not initially informed of his whereabouts. He was finally granted a telephone call around 11pm and was then able to contact his family and ask them to send a lawyer to the police district of El Gorjani.

This arrest was a direct consequence of a complaint filed by Tunisie Autoroutes against Kaabi for “financial losses caused by the strike”. The losses related of the opening of free lanes during the strike period. However, it appears that it was a management decision to open the corridors. Kaabi’s arrest followed menacing statements by the President of the Republic, who declared that trade unionists who threaten to close the highways “must be held to account”.

Right to civil liberties

In Lebanon, workers’ protests were often suppressed by police forces using disproportionate violence and arbitrary arrests.

Right to civil liberties

In Jordan, Alaa Abu Tarboush, a member of the Jordanian Teachers’ Association (JTA), was arrested as he was dropping his children off at school. According to Abu Tarboush’s father, four security officials stopped his car and arrested him, taking him to an unknown location.

Right to civil liberties

In February 2023, several workers at the Isfahan Steel Company in Iran were arrested amid rallies taking place near the industrial complex about workplace conditions. Riot police broke up a rally during the strike by hundreds of workers at the country’s third-largest steel producer. The workers had been on strike since 25 February, demanding better conditions and higher salaries. The Steelworkers Union said workers had no information about the status of their arrested colleagues.

Right to civil liberties

In August of 2022, three teacher union activists were arrested at the May Day protests and illegally detained. Eskandar Lotfi, Shaban Mohammadi and Masoud Nikkhah were all members of the board of directors of the Teachers’ Trade Association of Mariwan, in the Province of Kurdistan, Iran. Lofti is also the spokesperson for the Coordinating Council of Iranian Teachers’ Trade Associations (CCITTA). Disproportionate bails for their release were imposed on the three and they still face trial.

While in detention, Lofti, together with other detained teachers, went on hunger strike to protest the illegal and repressive actions of the security forces. He was urged by his colleagues to end his hunger strike after 10 days due to his severely deteriorating health conditions. The families of many imprisoned labour activists also issued a joint open letter to denounce their continued illegal imprisonment and the unacceptable detention conditions.

Several of the teachers were arrested around May Day and remained in detention, sometimes in solitary confinement, such as Rasoul Bodaghi, Jafar Ebrahimi and Mohammad Habibi.

The teacher rights’ activists were arrested in the wave of repression that targeted educators all over the country around May Day 2022. The authorities were desperate to stop the peaceful trade union demonstrations over teachers’ poor wages, the inadequate education budget and the imprisonment of teacher trade unionists. The authorities have since arrested, summoned, investigated and/or interrogated more than 200 teachers on baseless and false national security charges, violating their rights to freedom of association, to organise, and to freedom of speech.

Right to civil liberties

On 8 May 2022, teacher Cécile Kohler and retired teacher Jacques Paris, both members of the FO Federation of National Education and Vocational Training (FNEC FP FO) in France, were arrested on allegations of espionage and fomenting insecurity in Iran. They were arrested at the airport of Tehran as they were about to leave the country, after a private trip for which they had obtained a short-stay visa.

It was not until 11 May that Iranian television, citing the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence, announced the arrest of Jacques Paris and Cécile Kohler on the pretext of their having “entered the country with the aim of trigger [sic] chaos and destabilize [sic] society”.

On 6 July, the two were formally “accused of association and collusion with the aim of undermining the security of the country”.

For seven months, and despite the efforts of their families and the French government, Kohler’s and Paris’ whereabouts remained unknown. In November 2022, they were finally allowed a brief consular visit and a call to their respective families. These brief contacts confirmed that both Cécile Kohler and Jacques Paris were maintained in poor detention conditions at the Evin prison, and that their mental and physical health had severely deteriorated. During the first three months of their illegal detention, they were kept in isolation. Since November, neither the French embassy nor their families have received any news.

Right to civil liberties

Faleh Hammoudi was brought before the courts for speaking up against the Algerian government’s violations of migrants’ rights. In the past years, there had been an escalation of repression against human rights defenders in Algeria. On 20 February 2020, the Tlemcen Court of Misdemeanours, in Northern Algeria, convicted Faleh Hammoudi to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of 100,000 Algerian dinar (US$ 737).

Faleh Hammoudi is the head of the Tlemcen office of the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LADDH) and the national secretary of the Autonomous National Union of Public Administration Staff (SNAPAP), in charge of the human rights and migration department.



40% of countries in Africa arrested and detained workers.

Compared with 36% in 2022

Right to civil liberties

On 17 September 2022, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) was holding a meeting at its head office at Gorlon House in commemoration of human and trade union rights violations and in particular paying tribute to trade union leaders and activists who were physically attacked, arrested or killed while conducting trade union activities. Police raided ZCTU offices during this meeting and searched the offices, arresting anyone inside. The police also arrested vendors who were trading their goods near the ZCTU office. The ZCTU reported the incident to the ministry officials and also during a tripartite workshop on the Maintenance of Peace and Order Act (MOPA). However, the police officials attending this workshop responded by denying the raid and arrests.

Right to civil liberties

The Secretary General of the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ), Robson Chere, was arrested on 5 July 2022 and was detained at Burrowing Remand Prison. He was charged with the murder of Roy Issa, a human rights defender and a member of ARTUZ who died in 2016. At the time, a court inquest into Issa’s death had concluded that there was no foul play in his death.

Robson Chere’s arrest came barely a week after the release, on bail, of ARTUZ president, Obert Masaraure, who faced similar charges.

The ITUC wrote to the government on 8 July 2022 to remind them that only a year earlier the International Labour Organization had deplored Harare’s continued use of penal sanctions against those who voiced any opposition to the government.

Right to civil liberties

Obert Masaraure, President of the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ), was arrested on 14 June 2022 at Harare Police Station, where he had gone to report in line with his bail conditions. He had been charged with “treason” for participating in a teachers’ protest.

When he arrived at the police station, Masaraure was detained and later charged with the murder of Roy Issa, a human rights defender, a member of ARTUZ, and a personal friend, who died in 2016. Obert Masaraure was held at Chikurubi Maximum prison while awaiting the hearing of his new bail application.

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) immediately protested at the arrest and demanded his immediate and unconditional release. It pointed out that at the time of Roy Issa’s death, the magistrate’s court had ruled out foul play following an inquest.

The ZCTU viewed the arrest as a clear effort by the State to silence Obert Masaraure, who has been a vocal opponent of human rights violations, as well as having worked towards better working conditions for teachers. Over a number of years, Obert Masaraure has been the victim of numerous arrests on insubstantial grounds, and in 2019 he was abducted from his home by seven masked and armed men who tortured and left him for dead.

The courts initially denied him bail but, on appeal, the High Court released Obert Masaraure on 29 June 2022. His bail was set at ZW$60,000 (US$166) with conditions, including a requirement that he surrender his passport and report at a police station once a week.

Right to civil liberties

On 8 January 2023, the national delegate of the National Union of Contractual Secondary School Workers in Niger (UNECS) and his deputy were taken into custody by the gendarmerie in Dosso on the instruction of the deputy prosecutor of the regional High Court because of their trade union activities. They were released the next day at around 6pm.

Right to civil liberties

On 28 August 2022, Zotiakobanjinina Fanja Marcel Sento was arrested and detained in Antanimora-Antananarivo remand centre in Madagascar following a complaint by his company, E-TOILE SA. His trial was expedited, and he was found guilty and imprisoned after a court hearing on 31 August 2022.

Zotiakobanjinina Fanja Marcel Sento had been elected on 16 June 2022 to represent the workers of the textile company E-TOILE SA. As part of his trade union activities, he had published on his Facebook account the results of four meetings held with the management of the company that took place in June and July 2022. The company filed a complaint over these posts.

Right to civil liberties

In Guinea-Bissau, the residences of two leaders of the União Nacional dos Trabalhadores da Guiné- Central Sindical (UNTG-CS), general secretary Júlio António Mendonça and deputy general secretary general Yasser Turé, have been under surveillance since 2022. The two leaders have spotted unknown cars with tinted windows constantly patrolling the area around their residences and hooded men in uniform surveilling their houses. Mendonça and Turé also received messages containing threats of violence. According to UNTG-CS, this is not the first time such threats have been used against trade unionists.

Right to civil liberties

On 11 January 2023, the name of Sticks Nkambule, the Secretary General of the Swaziland Transport, Communication and Allied Workers Union (SWATCAWU), was published by the police as a wanted person for alleged criminal conduct. This followed the union’s announcement of a “job stay away” on 13 and 14 December 2022, with a demand to improve working conditions and the release from prison of two members of the Eswatini Parliament. On 29 December 2022, armed police had already raided the village of Sticks Nkambule and harassed his family. As a result of such harassment, he was forced into exile.

On 2 January 2023 the President of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) Mbongwa Dlamini was also forced into exile following threats by security forces to harm him, after his union called for a strike on 8 August 2022. In October 2022, the government had already suspended Mbongwa Dlamini’s salary without justification and had refused a check off system for SNAT’s newly recruited members.

Right to civil liberties

In Cameroon, strike actions and demonstrations were often disrupted and broken up by police forces who used beatings, arrests and threats against striking workers. The Confédération des Syndicats Autonomes du Cameroun regularly denounced this use of excessive force.



26% of countries in Europe arrested and detained workers.

Compared with 33% in 2022

Right to civil liberties

On 4 July 2022, eight leaders of the SES, the Trade Union of Public Employees in Health and Social Services, including their President Gönül Erden, stood trial on terrorism offences as a result of their union activities.

Evidence used against the union officials was that they had been organising public gatherings, handing out trade union materials and organising meetings between colleagues, which are all normal trade union activities.

The overall case was based on the testimony of an anonymous witness who has given evidence against at least 350 individuals. Much of the evidence was spurious at best, and cited Gönül Erden’s attendance as a guest at the UK-based trade union UNISON conference 2018 as evidence for the terrorism charges she faces.

Right to civil liberties

Şebnem Korur-Fincancı, President of the Turkish Medical Association, was imprisoned on 27 October 2022 under Turkey’s Anti-Terror Law for “propagandising for a terrorist organisation” and “publicly degrading the Turkish Nation, the state of the Republic and its institutions” because of her comments in the media about the allegations that Turkey used chemical gases during its military operations in Iraq and for which she called for an independent investigation.

Five members of KESK, who tried to attend the Court Hearing as observers, were arrested but later released.

Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s office has also asked that Şebnem Korur-Fincancı be suspended from her duties. Removal from office would be a clear and unacceptable interference in the freedom of trade unions to organise their own activities and structures.

Şebnem Korur-Fincancı is a forensic expert with decades of experience in anti-torture work. She has been persecuted for her activism on multiple occasions and was previously arrested in 2016 for supporting a freedom of the press campaign.

Right to civil liberties

On 26 February 2023, the Deputy General Secretary of the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey (DISK), Fahrettin Engin Erdoğan, was among the union leaders and members detained at a protest in Istanbul.

The protest was organised by the DISK and the Confederation of Public Employees’ Trade Unions (KESK) over reports of corruption hampering efforts to help victims of the country’s recent earthquake.

Members of both unions were among more than 100 people detained.

Right to civil liberties

In the early morning of 4 October 2022, four maintenance workers of the Réseau de Transport d’Electricité (RTE) were arrested in their homes by the DGSI (the French intelligence services) and held in custody in the premises of the DGSI in Levallois. The workers at RTE had been on strike for four months over low wages in the face of the rising inflation. At the end of July, their company filed a complaint for “malicious acts” and for “having disrupted the operations of the company”.

The Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT) denounced these arrests and questioned the intervention in a labour dispute by intelligence services specialised in terrorism.

Right to civil liberties

In Belarus, on 30 May 2022, Uladzimer Krysyonak, a trade union activist who took part in a major strike by workers at the Naftan oil-processing company in 2020, was found hanged at his home.

Police had questioned him a few days earlier with regard to an unspecified case. He was detained about a week before his death, before being released, with orders not to leave the city.

Uladzimer Krysyonak’s relatives and colleagues said police had threatened to send him to prison for 12 years. Uladzimer Krysyonak was an active participant in the 2020 strike in protest against the official results of the August presidential election that proclaimed authoritarian ruler Alexander Lukashenko as the winner, amid opposition allegations that the vote was rigged. Krysyonak was also a candidate for the post of the chairman of an independent trade union in 2021.

Right to civil liberties

Since April 2022, the Belarusian government has engaged in a systematic pattern of repression against the independent trade unions in the country, arbitrarily arresting and detaining trade union leaders and members, intimidating and harassing them. On 19 April 2022, more than twenty leaders and activists of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (BKDP) were detained by the State Security Committee (KGB), including Aliaksandr Yarashuk, BKDP chairman. Repression continued as further targeted arrests were made in May, including Maksim Pazniakou, acting BKDP chairman, who was picked up by the state authorities on 17 May 2022.

Andrei Khanevich, chairperson of the primary trade union organization of the BNP at Grodno Azot was sentenced to a five-year imprisonment in November, while Aliaksandr Mishuk, BNP vice-chairperson and chairperson of the primary trade union organisation at Belaruskali, was sentenced to two-and-a-half years’ imprisonment.

On 27 December 2022, the Minsk City Court passed a verdict against the imprisoned BKDP leaders: chairman Aliaksandr Yarashuk was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment, his deputy Sergei Antusevich to two years in prison, and BKDP accountant Irina But-Husaim to 18 months in prison. They were found guilty of actions that grossly violate public order and Yarashuk was also found guilty of calling for measures aimed at harming national security.

All three trade unionists had been in custody since 19 April 2022 and Aliaksandr Yarashuk has had no access to his family, colleagues or lawyers during his detention.

On 5 January 2023, the Minsk City Court passed a sentence on the leaders of the trade union of radio-electronic industry workers (REP): Hennadz Fiadynich was sentenced to nine years of reinforced regime imprisonment, Vasil Berasneu was sentenced to nine years in a medium security prison, while Vatslau Areshka was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment in a general regime prison.

All were found guilty of calling for measures aimed at harming national security, incitement of other social hatred, and the creation of an extremist formation or participation in it.

Activists in Cambodia protest in support of workers at the NagaWorld Hotel and Casino where trade unionists were jailed for taking strike action. The country was one of 69 where working people were detained and arrested, violating the right to civil liberties.Tang Chhin Sothy / AFP

10-year trends: Right to civil liberties