15 HEPCO Workers in Iran Issued Suspended Prison, Lashing Sentences For Demanding Unpaid Wages
Fifteen staff members of the HEPCO manufacturing company in Markazi Province, Iran, have been issued suspended prison and lashing sentences for striking for unpaid wages, reported the state-funded Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) on October 28, 2018.
Suspended sentences function like bail conditions; defendants are expected to keep a low profile and not engage in any form of activism for the duration of their sentence.
“It should be noted that some of these workers… were labor representatives negotiating with the employer,” said the ILNA report. “The workers say they want the new Labor Minister [Mohammad Shariatmadari], who had given assurances about the freedom to organize labor protests, to step in and prevent their prosecution.”
Based on Article 27 of Iran’s Constitution, “Public gatherings and marches may be freely held, provided arms are not carried and that they are not detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam.”
Nevertheless, labor activism in Iran is treated 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.
“Based on the ruling issued by Branch 106 of the Criminal Court in Arak [city], each of these 15 workers has been ordered to serve a year to two and a half years in prison and be flogged 74 lashes,” reported ILNA.
“These are preliminary verdicts and the workers have lodged appeals,” added the report. “At the same time, the court has suspended the sentences for five years considering the workers’ lack of criminal records and the special circumstances surrounding their demand for several months of unpaid salaries,” added the report.
The workers convicted of “disturbing the peace” at the Heavy Equipment Production Company (HEPCO) are: Morteza Azizi, Hamidreza Ahmadi, Mehdi Abedi, Behrouz Valashjerdi, Abolfazl Karimi, Yasser Ghalami, Amir Farid Afshar, Amir Houshang Pourfarzanegan, Hadi Fazeli, Amir Fattahpour, Majid Yahyaie, Behrouz Hassanvand, Farid Kouhdani, Majid Lotfi and Ali Maleki.
Since May 2018, hundreds of HEPCO plant workers have gone on at least two strikes demanding months of unpaid wages.
Between May 14-16, the protesters blocked Iran’s north-south railway line in Arak but returned to work after government mediators and HEPCO managers reached a deal to pay the workers. The strike resumed on May 21 after no payment was issued.
Established in 1975, HEPCO is one of Iran’s largest manufacturers of construction machinery. The company was confiscated by Iran’s new revolutionary government after the 1979 revolution but was sold to a private buyer in 2007.