Seven to Face Trial in Connection with Labor Protests
Many Denied Access to Counsel, Families Warned to Stay Quiet
After months of unlawful prosecution in connection with workers’ rights protests in southwestern Iran, five journalists and two labor activists are due to go on trial at Branch 15 of the revolutionary court in Tehran presided by Judge Abolqasem Salavati, a source with knowledge of their cases told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on May 20, 2019.
The journalists, who cover labor affairs, are freelancer Sepideh Qoliyan, the editor-in-chief of the Gam independent Telegram app news channel, Amirhossein Mohammadifard, his colleague and wife Sanaz Allahyari, and two staff reporters, Ali (Amir) Amirgholi and Asal Mohammadi.
The workers’ rights activists are Esmail Bakhshi and Ali Nejati, representatives of the Haft Tappeh sugar mill workers’ union near the city of Shush in Khuzestan Province.
No date has been set for the trial.
Their joint indictment was completed after the seven presented their defenses to prosecutors on different days in Evin Prison between May 12 and May 18, 2019, the source, who requested anonymity for security reasons, told CHRI.
They have all been charged with “assembly and collusion against national security,” “forming groups with the intention to disturb national security” and “contacts with anti-state organizations.” However, Qoliyan and Bakhshi face additional charges of “disturbing public opinion” and “publishing falsehoods.”
“Except for Sepideh Qoliyan and Esmail Bakhshi, none of them have lawyers,” said the source. “Initially they were told that they could choose a lawyer from a list approved by the judiciary… Then Amirgholi’s family spoke with one of these lawyers and he advised them not to take any action until the verdict is issued and, if it was unjust, he would object to it.”
“But how can a lawyer ignore his client’s right to defense and postpone action until after the sentence is issued?” added the source. “Eventually those who didn’t have a lawyer decided to act in their own defense.”
Since late 2017, detainees held on national security-related charges—including journalists, activists, and defense lawyers—have been told to choose their counsel from a list approved by Iran’s chief justice.
“One of the assistant prosecutors, named Shahmohammadi [last name], was really upset with Qoliyan and Allahyari because they refused to appear in court with a chador [Islamic full-body covering] and instead had put on makeup and red lipstick,” said the source.
“He also yelled at them for sharing information about their cases with the public and warned Mohammadi that if she keeps talking to the media… she would also be charged with ‘disturbing public opinion,’” added the source. “He even told their families to keep quiet or else their children would remain in prison.”
The seven’s common “crime” has been involvement with workers’ rights protests in Khuzestan Province, particularly the demonstrations against the Haft Tappeh sugar company for unpaid pages.
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 nevertheless 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.
Bakhshi and Nejati were arrested in November 2018 along with Qoliyan, who was reporting on the sugarcane workers’ protests in Shush.
Nejati was freed on bail for medical reasons on January 28, 2019.
However, Bakhshi and Qoliyan, who had been released on bail in December 2018, were rearrested on January 20 after publicly reporting torture by Intelligence Ministry agents during their detention.
Amirgholi has remained in detention since being arrested at his home in Babolsar, northern Iran, on January 15, 2019.
Mohammadifard and Allahyari have also been denied bail. They have been in Evin Prison since their arrest on January 9, 2019.
Gam journalist Asal Mohammadi was arrested in Tehran on December 4, 2018, and released on bail on January 5.