Security Forces Arrest Protesters in Front of Iran’s Parliament on Labor Day
A peaceful demonstration by people demanding workers’ rights in front of Iran’s Parliament in Tehran on International Workers’ Day, May 1, 2019, was violently repressed after police and plainclothes security agents attacked the crowd and arrested dozens of workers.
Those arrested include prominent bus trade unionist Reza Shahabi and other protesters identified by the Free Workers Union of Iran (FWUI) as Hassan Saeidi, Kayvan Samimi, Farhad Sheikhi, Vahid Fereydoun, Nasser Moharramzadeh, Rasoul Taleb Moghaddam, Asadollah Soleimani, Mohammad Ali Aslani, Kamyar Fakour, “Ms. Shiri,” Elham Salehi, Anisha Asadollahi, Merdas Taheri, Mohsen Soleimaninejad, Hadi Soleimani, Mehdi Azimi, Mahan Salehi, Ghasem Khalouie, Mohammad Aslaghi, and Amir Mohammad Taheri.
The slogans chanted at the gathering included “Inflation has devastated people,” “People join us! Our pain is your pain,” and “Bread, employment and freedom are our rights,” the FWUI reported via its Telegram app channel.
An eyewitness told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), that the detainees were taken to a police detention center on Gisha St. in Tehran on May 1.
Some provincial officials said the protest was illegal because it didn’t have a permit but a member of Parliament later disputed that statement.
“The gathering is illegal because there was no request for a permit,” Reza Alikhani, the director for political affairs in Tehran Province, told the state-funded Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA). “The police have a duty to stop this gathering and maintain security.”
According to 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.”
But peaceful 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.
Tehran MP Ahmad Mazani said the demonstrators didn’t require a protest permit since they were exercising a constitutionally recognized right.
“I believe that based on the Constitution, you don’t need a permit for a gathering or a demonstration, especially if it’s for a particular occasion and friends want to criticize and protest,” the reformist lawmaker told the state-funded Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) on May 1.
“We have to wait for the outcome of a parliamentary investigation,” Mazani said, adding, “I hope the security forces, especially the police, will show restraint and high tolerance toward any hard slogans because it’s not becoming of the Islamic Republic to suppress workers on Labor Day.”
Iran’s main official and semi-official state news outlets did not publish any reports or images of the gathering or other protests around the country until late in the evening of May 1.
However, the independent Iranian news site, Meidaan, reported that the protest began at 10 a.m. when about 300 people gathered at a metro station near Baharestan Sq. and began marching toward Parliament.
Initially, the police cooperated with the demonstrators and requested that they move from the street to the sidewalk, according to Meidan.
“The police commander announced that there was a space prepared for the demonstrators where they could hold their protest and even make speeches,” Meidaan reported via its Twitter account.
“But suddenly, around 10:20, about 30 policemen and 20 plainclothes agents raided the crowd, which had grown to 500 people, and started to beat and arrest the protesters in the most violent manner,” it added.
The marchers dispersed at around 11 a.m. after “some 20 people were wounded and arrested,” according to Mediaan.
Some Iranians took to Twitter to condemn the state’s lack of tolerance for peaceful workers’ rights protests.
Journalist Amir Yaghoubali tweeted, “The confrontations were very violent. The governor’s office says no permit was issued for the gathering but it didn’t mention the last time any gathering got a permit. It’s a really big mess.”
Criticizing the crackdown, political activist Mohammad Javad Akbarin tweeted: “Yesterday [President Hassan] Rouhani said ‘our dear workers are on the frontline of the fight against America.’ Today, tens of those ‘dear workers’ were arrested by government agents because they gathered in front of Parliament on Labor Day to demand their rights instead of confronting America.”
Elahe Mohammadi, another journalist, wrote: “My father was a worker for 20 whole years. He was always at the forefront of labor protests at a textile factory. One night he came home badly beaten. He was limping. He said he would go back the next day and take what was rightfully his. In the end, fighting for his rights left him with varicose veins, leg pains, and a pitiful salary. Happy Labor Day…”