free valentin urusov!

by Simon Pirani

An international campaign has been launched for the release of Valentin Urusov, a Russian miner framed up and imprisoned after recruiting workmates to a union.  

Urusov, an employee of Alrosa, the diamond mining company, is serving six years’ hard labour for an obviously fabricated offence (possession of drugs).  

An alliance of trade unions and human rights campaigners, in Russia and internationally, is demanding his release. 

Urusov was singled out for attention by the authorities after an industrial dispute in July last year at Alrosa’s mine in Udachny, in Yakutiya, eastern Siberia, where he works.  

After prolonged protests over working conditions, a new union organisation was formed and a protest hunger strike staged. In response, the management agreed to set up a bi-partisan negotiating committee.  

On 3 September 2008, two days before the committee was due to report, Urusov, who had been acting as the miners’ spokesman, was arrested. He was detained at home, illegally and forcibly taken 60 km away, and threatened with a firearm.  

Officers searched his home when he was in detention and “found” drugs there. He was convicted and sentenced on 26 December 2008 by the Mirinsky district court in Yakutiya. 

Protests were sent to Yakutiya by trade unionists in Germany, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Romania, Pakistan, India and Ireland as well as in Russia. On 12 May 2009, the Russian Supreme Court overturned the conviction on procedural grounds and released Urusov on bail – which, activists noted, was a rare victory.  

The illegal and flawed nature of the prosecution case was widely publicised, and criminal proceedings begun against S. Rudov, the officer who headed the investigation.  

Despite all this, on 26 June, when the case was returned to the Mirinsky court in Yakutiya, it confirmed the original conviction and six-year sentence. Urusov’s lawyers say the court has been influenced by the management of Alrosa, which is a huge money-maker for the Yakutiya regional administration, its largest shareholder.  

A group of Russian trade union organisations including the SOTSPROF federation (to which Urusov’s union, Profsvoboda, is affiliated) have written to President Medvedev calling on him to intervene and ensure Urusov’s release. The veteran human rights activists Lev Ponomarev and Liudmila Alekseeva have given their support. 

Urusov’s imprisonment comes against a background of growing unrest in some industrial areas of Russia, where the world economic crisis has caused closures, lay-offs and wage cuts. Prime minister Vladimir Putin and other government ministers have expressed concern over possible community revolts in the “monotowns” – i.e. those, such as Udachny, that rely largely on one workplace for their livelihood. 

UK trade union organisations are asked, in the first instance, to: 

* Write to President Dmitry Medvedev at the Presidential Administration, The Kremlin, Moscow, Russia, protesting at the injustice of Urusov’s imprisonment and demanding his release; 

* Copy your protests to the Institute for Collective Action, at info@ikd.ru, with the word “Urusov” in the subject line. 

It is hoped that in the near future a group will be established in the UK to coordinate activity around this case. If you are interested in participating, or need further information, please write to smpirani@hotmail.com.