Iranian authorities should immediately release dozens of labor and independent trade union activists imprisoned for speaking out peacefully in defense of workers, Human Rights Watch said. Convictions solely for the peaceful exercise of freedom of association and assembly should be quashed, and charges should be dropped against others facing prosecution for these reasons, Human Rights Watch said.
The latest round of arrests took place in Iran’s Tehran, East Azerbaijan and Kurdistan provinces. The authorities summoned four activists in mid-January 2012 to begin serving long sentences imposed in 2011. On January 28, authorities arrested Alireza Akhavan, a teacher and labor rights activist, in his home in Tehran. It is not know where he is currently being held. On January 18, security forces arrested Mohammad Jarrahi in his home in Tabriz. Three days earlier, intelligence agents arrested Shahrokh Zamani, another Tabriz labor rights leader, and summoned two others also in Tabriz. Authorities also arrested Shays Amani, a prominent rights activist and member of an independent trade union in the city of Sanandaj on January 16. Earlier in the month authorities detained Mehdi Shandeez and transferred to Ward 350 of Evin prison in Tehran. All those arrested are labor activists or members of independent trade unions not authorized by the government.
“Independent trade unions have played a critical role in protecting workers’ rights under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “This latest round of arrests continues a long and ugly tradition of targeting independent trade unions to enforce full state control over these groups.”
Authorities initially arrested Zamani on June 7, 2011, in connection with his activities as a member of an independent painters’ syndicate and a board member of the Committee to Pursue the Establishment of Labor Unions. Branch 1 of the Revolutionary Court in Tabriz sentenced him to 11 years in prison for “participating in the organization of an unlawful group opposing the state … with the aim of disrupting national security by way of workers’ strikes and armed rebellion,” “assembly and collusion to further illegal activities,” and “propaganda against the regime.”
In the same case, the court sentenced Jarrahi, who was arrested on June 20, to five years in prison for organizing an “unlawful” group called the Democratic Workers Movement, and Nima Pouryaghoub to five years on the same charge plus an additional year for “propaganda against the regime.” Sassan Vahebivash was sentenced to six months for related activities. Pouryaghoub and Vahebivash are engineering students at Tabriz’s Azad University.
Authorities freed the four defendants after they posted bail, but, in November 2011, Branch 6 of the East Azerbaijan appeals’ court confirmed the original sentences handed down by the trial court. Authorities did not summon the defendants to serve their prison terms until this year.
According to Iranian media reports, Amani, a prominent labor rights activist in Sanandaj (Kurdistan province) and a board member of the Iran Free Workers’ Union (IFWU), was arrested after he went to the prosecutor’s office in Sanandaj to inquire about the status of two other activists who had been detained earlier in January.
Human Rights Watch is concerned about the well-being of several other prominent labor and trade union activists currently serving prison sentences, including Reza Shahabi, Ali Nejati, Ebrahim Madadi, and Behnam Ebrahimzadeh. Madadi is vice-president and Shahabi is treasurer of the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company (SWTSBC). Madadi is serving a three-and-a-half-year sentence on charges of endangering national security. Shahabi was arrested on June 12, 2010. A revolutionary court in Tehran tried him of endangering national security and “propaganda against the state” on May 25, 2011, but there has been no ruling in his case yet.
According to a source familiar with his case, Shahabi spent 18 months in Tehran’s Evin prison without charge, including several months in solitary confinement, and suffers from serious neck and back pain. Shahabi is in Imam Khomeini hospital in Tehran after ending a 30-day hunger strike on December 22 to protest his detention and the authorities’ refusal to provide proper medical care.
Two other activists, Ali Nejati and Behnam Ebrahimzadeh, who are serving one and five-year prison terms, respectively, on national security charges related to their independent trade union activities, also suffer from serious medical conditions. According to information received by Human Rights Watch, both Nejati and Ebrahimzadeh asked for long-term furloughs from prison so they could seek proper medical care, but judicial officials have denied their requests.
Nejati is a former president and current board member of the Haft Tappeh Sugar Cane Workers’ Syndicate (HTSCW), and is in Ahvaz’s Dezful prison in southwest Iran. Ebrahimzadeh is in Evin prison.