Haft Tappeh Workers Urge International Labor Organization to Investigate Suppression of Labor Protests
*A group of workers in the Iranian city of Ahvaz, Khuzestan Province, have published an open letter calling on the International Labor Organization (ILO) to investigate state suppression of workers’ rights protests at the local Half Tappeh sugarcane mill.
“We hereby submit a brief report and our official complaint for your consideration to condemn the government of Iran for its blatant violations of workers’ inalienable rights in forming independent labor organizations and holding gatherings, as well as the suppression of labor activists, especially at the Haft Tappeh agro-industry company,” said the letter published on the Haft Tappeh Independent Workers’ Telegram app channel on June 5, 2019.
Despite the wording of the letter, the workers have not filed an official complaint with the ILO.
Independent unions are not allowed to officially operate in Iran, strikers often lose their jobs and risk arrest, and labor leaders who attempt to organize workers and bargain collectively are prosecuted under national security charges and sentenced to long prison sentences.
“In recent months, tens of Haft Tappeh workers have been arrested, summoned or threatened simply for holding rallies to express their work-related complaints,” added the letter.
“Some of them have been temporarily released on bail,” said the letter. “The list includes the names of more than 50 workers.”
The workers also mentioned the cases of people who have been imprisoned for reporting about the protests: “In addition, other individuals who were engaged in reporting in support of the Haft Tappeh workers have also faced months of detention and interrogation during which they suffered torture and intimidation.”
The most prominent cases include Haft Tappeh workers’ representatives Esmail Bakhshi and Ali Nejati, and freelance reporter Sepideh Qoliyan.
Bakhshi and Qoliyan have been imprisoned since January 2019 after both reported that Bakhshi had been tortured while in the custody of the Intelligence Ministry.
Nejati has been in jail since November 2018 for attending protests at the sugar mill.
All three detainees have suffered serious violations of their due process and human rights, including being denied access to counsel and medical treatment.
The journalists who’ve been detained after reporting on the Haft Tappeh protests include Amirhossein Mohammadifard, the editor-in-chief of the Gam Telegram app channel, his colleague and wife Sanaz Allahyari, and two staff reporters, Ali (Amir) Amirgholi and Asal Mohammadi.
All seven are due to be tried at Branch 15 of the revolutionary court in Tehran on charges of “assembly and collusion against national security,” “forming groups with the intention to disturb national security” and “contacts with anti-state organizations.”
Qoliyan and Bakhshi face additional charges of “disturbing public opinion” and “publishing falsehoods.”
“The families of the detainees have all been pressured and intimidated to keep them from speaking to the media about the difficult circumstances of their incarcerated loved ones,” said the workers’ letter.
Following is another excerpt of the letter:
“Security and judicial authorities have explicitly warned the families that the more they publicize the prisoners’ situation, the longer they would be kept behind bars.
Our representative, Esmail Bakhshi, was arrested by the security forces… and put under intense torture. When he was freed on a hefty bail, he published his account of the torture for the attention of the workers and public opinion. He said the torture brought him close to death. He then formally filed a complaint against the security agents who had tortured him.
But shockingly, the same security establishment [Intelligence Ministry] that tortured him shamelessly fabricated charges against him and arrested him again… for revealing the truth.
Esmail Bakhshi, Ali Nejati and Sepideh Qoliyan were subjected to physical and psychological torture during their detention in the Intelligence Ministry’s detention center in Ahvaz [capital of Khuzestan Province] and forced to make false confessions in front of the camera. Then the security authorities dreamed up a false scenario and made a ridiculous film [aired on state-run TV] with a montage of bits and pieces of their so-called confessions and tried to portray them as dangerous to society…
The Iranian government’s age-old attempts to link workers and activists to opposition political forces and shamelessly accuse them of terrorist actions have no credibility in the eyes of the workers, the majority of the Iranian people and labor organizations inside and outside the country. We emphasize that these workers were… only defending the rights and demands of the Haft Tappeh workers. We hope to receive your official response and pass it on to the workers.”
*This article was revised on August 13, 2019, to reflect that the letter was not officially filed with the ILO and rather published as an open letter instead.