Iranian Bus Drivers and Activists Express Solidarity with Imprisoned Labor Activist Reza Shahabi
Update: With assurances from a senior official, labor activist Reza Shahabi ended his hunger strike in Rajaee Shahr Prison on September 27, 2017, after nearly two months of refusing food.
“Reza announced the end of his hunger strike when a senior security official, in the presence of his family, promised to look into his demands as soon as possible,” said a statement by the Union of Workers of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company (UWTSBC) on September 28. “He said if his demands are not investigated within a reasonable time, he will resume his hunger strike.”
“The physical condition of this worker is very grave,” added the statement. “Reza needs to be immediately hospitalized to get treatment for the devastating impact of 50 days on hunger strike and physical abuse he received during arrest and detention.”
Dozens of Tehran bus drivers and labor activists rallied in front of the Labor Ministry in Tehran on September 25, 2017 in solidarity with their imprisoned colleague Reza Shahabi, who has been on hunger strike for more than 50 days.
More than 800 political and labor activists also signed a letter, released on September 24, expressing support for Shahabi’s demands while also calling on him to end the strike to prevent further health complications.
“Reza Shahbi is a political prisoner,” said the letter, a copy of which was received by the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI). “Any demand is political in a country where you are humiliated, insulted, beaten, flogged and imprisoned for demanding months of unpaid wages and the right to a dignified life worthy of a human being, and expecting your family will not go hungry, and wanting job security and healthcare, and the freedom to protest against injustice.”
Labor activism in Iran is seen as a national security offense; independent labor unions are not allowed to function, strikers are often fired and risk arrest, and labor leaders are consistently prosecuted under catchall national security charges and sentenced to long prison terms.
Shahabi, a board member of the Union of Workers of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company (UWTSBC), has refused food since the day after he was forced to return to prison on August 8, 2017 to serve the remainder of a six-year prison sentence issued for his peaceful activism.
Despite Shahabi’s deteriorating health in Rajaee Shahr Prison in Karaj, located west of the Iranian capital, the authorities have not responded to his demand for a judicial review of his case and are ignoring his medical needs.
Arrested in June 2010, Shahabi was sentenced to six years in prison after being convicted of “propaganda against the state” and “assembly and collusion against national security” by Branch 15 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court. He was also banned from engaging in civic activism for five years.
In September 2014, Shahabi was granted medical furlough and found out nearly three years later that the time he was allotted outside the prison for treatment and recuperation was not deducted from his sentence.
When he returned to Evin Prison on August 8, 2017, after being threatened with losing his security deposit, Shahabi was told he would have to serve the five months that remained on his sentence before he was released on furlough, as well as a year for his alleged role in a clash between guards and prisoners in Evin Prison on April 17, 2014, referred to as “Black Thursday.”
“Shahabi was injured during that attack, but the prison officials and the guards who carried out the assault testified against him and in the end he was sentenced to another year in prison,” an informed source told CHRI in August 2017.
Rather than charging dissidents with political crimes, which would require an open trial in the presence of a jury, Iranian judicial authorities have consistently accused peaceful activists of crimes against national security and sentenced them to long prison terms in closed trials in the Revolutionary Court system.
According to Article 168 of Iran’s Constitution, “Political and press offenses will be tried openly and in the presence of a jury, in courts of justice.”
*This article was updated on September 29, 2017 to reflect that Reza Shahabi ended his hunger strike.