Sting: "Sending out an S.O.S." on Kazakh Human Rights Abuses

07/03/2011 05:51 pm ET | Updated Sep 02, 2011

Sting has just taken a very courageous important stand on a major human rights issue. Apprised by Amnesty International of the latest rights abuses in Kazakhstan being inflicted on oil workers and their union leaders, Sting has today canceled a major concert appearance due to take place tomorrow, Monday July 4th in the Kazakh capital, Astana.

The human rights situation in the Central Asian nation has deteriorated seriously in the past few weeks. Thousands of oil workers at UzenMunaiGas, a unit of UK-based oil producer KazMunaiGas Exploration Production, went on strike on May 26 after their wages were drastically cut and their lawyer imprisoned on trumped-up charges. KazMunaiGas branded the strike as illegal and terminated over 250 employees.

Sting's Symphonicity tour (in which he performs his Police and solo compositions with a symphony orchestra) included a stop in Astana to celebrate the 13th anniversary of that city's designation in 1998 as Kazakhstan's new capital. The concert was to have taken place on July 4th in Astana's futuristic Republican Velodrome venue.

But Amnesty International -- the Nobel Peace Prize-winning human rights organization that Sting has been an ardent supporter of for the past thirty years -- contacted Sting to let him know that his presence in Astana was likely to be touted by the Kazakh administration as an endorsement of its repressive regime and would be in conflict with his much-respected three decades of supporting Amnesty and the fight for human rights.

On examining the issue and latest evidence carefully, Sting took the tough decision to cancel his participation in the Astana Festival.

He has issued the following statement:

Hunger strikes, imprisoned workers and tens of thousands on strike represents a virtual picket line which I have no intention of crossing. The Kazakh gas and oil workers and their families need our support and the spotlight of the international media on their situation in the hope of bringing about positive change.

Martin Lewis recruited Sting to Amnesty International in 1981 -- initially to perform for one of the "Secret Policeman's Ball" benefit shows that Lewis produced and co-created with Monty Python's John Cleese. Sting went on to become a major performer in most of Amnesty's Human Rights Concerts in the 1980s and 1990s and has continued to be a strong, vocal supporter of Amnesty and the human rights cause.