Intelligence Ministry Threatens Families of Labor Activists Bakhsi, Qoliyan With Prosecution
The Intelligence Ministry in the city of Shush, southwestern Iran, summoned the families of detained labor activist Esmail Bakhshi and freelance reporter Sepideh Qoliyan and warned them not to speak to the media, the worker’s union of the nearby Haft Tappeh sugar mill reported on February 21, 2019.
“The intelligence officials told the families that the two prisoners had lied about being tortured and asked them to calm the media,” said the report on the union’s Telegram messaging app channel. “The families have also been threatened with prosecution.
Subjecting friends, family members and lawyers of defendants held in politically sensitive cases to various forms of harassment and intimidation is common in Iran to prevent them from speaking to media outlets.
Bakhshi and Qoliyan, both peaceful advocates of workers’ rights in Iran, were initially arrested on November 18, 2018, and detained for roughly a month in an Intelligence Ministry-run detention center in Ahvaz. After they were released on bail, they both stated that they had been tortured and posted statements online that were later confirmed by eyewitnesses.
On January 20, two weeks after the publication of their social media statements, Bakhshi and Qoliyan were rearrested by agents of the Intelligence Ministry.
Members of Bakhshi’s family had recently joined protests by a group of Haft Tappeh workers outside the judiciary’s office in Shush, demanding Bakhshi and Qoliyan’s release.
On February 17, Bakhshi’s mother (name unknown), was briefly hospitalized after agents of the judiciary’s security wing tried to violently arrest her.
Bakhshi, a Haft Tappeh union representative, is facing three charges of “disturbing public opinion,” “propaganda against the state” and “insulting officials” for protesting for unpaid wages and for publicly stating that he had been tortured while in the custody of the Intelligence Ministry.
Throughout the past two years, workers of the Haft Tappeh sugar mill have launched several strikes demanding months of unpaid wages.
Labor activism in Iran is treated as a national security offense, strikers are often fired and risk arrest, and labor leaders are prosecuted under catchall national security charges and sentenced to long prison terms.
On January 22, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) called on the Iranian authorities to release Bakhshi and Qoliyan, ensure their protection, and re-open an independent and impartial investigation into their alleged torture.
CHRI has also called on all relevant UN human rights bodies as well as EU countries with which Iran maintains relations to take coordinated action to call for the activists’ immediate release and demand a full and impartial investigation into their alleged torture.