This agreement and the fact that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil support it tell us everything we need to know about the truth of European Union trade policy. It is only words and empty rhetoric when it comes to human rights. In its actions the European Union is concerned about profits for big EU companies. It is concerned about market access and willing to dress it up in whatever language it takes. That is, ultimately, all that it cares about.
The agreement is being and will be used by the Nazarbayev regime to portray itself as improving, increasing democracy, moving westward, etc. These are exactly the talking points the Government features in its speeches. That is exactly the line used by the regime. Those responsible refer to it as being better to see incremental progress over a long period on the basis of engagement, rather than ending up with restricted engagement. That is merely an excuse from the point of view of the European Union. There is no evidence whatsoever that engaging in such trade deals promotes democracy, assists the work of civil society organisations or creates freer space for trade unionists or those who are attempting to organise in countries such as Kazakhstan. Instead, it has the effect of bolstering regimes, but the European Union simply does not care about it.
The regime in Kazakhstan is utterly horrific. I have first-hand experience of it. I visited Kazakhstan as a Member of the European Parliament in 2011. I spent several days there. During my visit I met human rights activists and trade unionists throughout the country. I spent several days across the Mangystau region in the west of Kazakhstan where a major strike of oil workers was taking place. It was an illegal strike. They were operating outside the framework of the official trade union movement because that movement is completely state-controlled. It is an independent movement of tens of thousands of workers.
After I came home I discussed the matter with the workers again. There is an active socialist movement in Kazakhstan and there are members of the sister party of the Socialist Party in Kazakhstan.
We discussed organising a protest on Kazakhstan independence day in December 2011 in Zhanaozen, which is the provincial capital of the Mangystau region. On that day, tens of workers were massacred when they went out to protest. They were shot down in the streets by state forces and the massacre was captured on video. The Minister, Fianna Fáil Deputies and whoever else wishes can view the footage. Those are the actions of this type of regime.
Before I visited Kazakhstan, my colleague, former Deputy Joe Higgins, visited some of the country's prisons where he saw the horrific conditions of systematic torture experienced by people who had been arrested on charges such as stirring up social discontent. People in Kazakhstan can be arrested, imprisoned for years and tortured in a brutal way by the regime on the basis of accusations of stirring up social discontent.
I attempted to visit Kazakhstan again to try to assist in an investigation to uncover the names of those who were killed and undo and expose the impunity afforded to those who ordered the massacre. I was refused a visa on two occasions and was never able to access the country, despite being a member of the European Parliament with a particular focus on the question of Kazakhstan.
The record of Kazakhstan, as I am sure the Minister of State knows, is horrific in every possible way. In terms of freedom of association, no independent political parties are legally registered in Kazakhstan and workers are not able to organise in trade unions. In the past decade, media outlets have been consistently shut down and anyone who speaks out against the regime is silenced. Perhaps worst of all are the conditions of torture that prevail within the country's prisons.
I want to mention the human rights lawyer, Vadim Kuramshin, with whom I worked closely in recent years. Thankfully, Mr. Kuramshin finally left prison some months ago, having been arrested and jailed on trumped up charges for six and a half years. I note the Minister spoke in the committee about improving penal conditions. Mr. Kuramshin wrote about the conditions he suffered in prison. I want to read out a few sentences he wrote so that when Members vote to proceed with this agreement, they will know the kind of torture they are endorsing. He stated:
From the date of my last conviction ... I had constantly been subjected to torture. Practically my entire sentence was spent in punishment rooms and solitary confinement.
When I arrived at the correction colony of Ust-Kamenogorsk on the 12th December 2017, I was immediately subjected to cruel beatings by the prison officers of this establishment. I was beaten by dozens of officers all at one time.
When I asked them not to beat my back, the officers used their knees and even began to jump on my back. This caused me great pain and distress. I was then carried into the inspection room. There, in the presence of human rights activists and employees of the prosecutor's office, two knives which had been planted on me were ostentatiously removed. [This was] filmed in order to use against me.
As Mr. Kuramshin noted, this was "a gross breach of the international code of conduct which Kazakhstan is supposed to adhere to." That the European Union would do such a trade deal and the establishment political parties would endorse such a regime tells us everything we need to know.