New Conviction against Imprisoned Labor Leader Upheld to Keep Him Behind Bars
Jafar Azimzadeh Should Have Been Released, Instead Given Another 13 Months
Now Activist Has Contracted COVID-19 in Iran’s Overcrowded Prisons
The prominent labor activist Jafar Azimzadeh, who should have been released from prison in February 2020 as part of a broad state-issued pardon and who has since contracted COVID-19 while he was kept at Tehran’s Evin Prison, has been quickly convicted under new charges, upheld on Appeal, in order to keep him behind bars, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) has learned.
Increasingly harsh sentences for activists, and fast prosecutions under new charges to keep prominent human rights defenders who are due for release behind bars, indicate the Iranian authorities’ growing commitment to silence any potential dissent.
“In February 2020, due to the coronavirus threat, those who had been sentenced up to five years in prison, and served a third of their term, were pardoned, and they included Mr. Azimzadeh,” a source with knowledge about the case told CHRI on condition of anonymity.
“Four months went by and he was told that the prosecutor was opposed [to his release] and in the mean time they built a new case against him and got him sentenced. They said he was pardoned for his previous case but now he has to serve his new sentence.
“In other words, they charged and sentenced Mr. Azimzadeh in 20 days and issued an order preventing his freedom.”
The source continued: “In 2019, Mr. Azimzadeh and several other prisoners signed a statement to protest against charging political prisoners for the cost of medical expenses.
“That became the basis of the new case against him, as well as an audio message he recorded to protest heavy sentences issued against participants in a Labor Day rally. Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court sentenced him to one year and one month in prison, which was upheld by the Appeals Court. Now he’s serving his new term.”
Labor Leader Contracts COVID-19 While Unjustly Held in Overcrowded Prison
This week it was reported that Azimzadeh and at least 11 others have tested positive for COVID-19 in Evin Prison’s Ward 8.
The source who spoke to CHRI on August 10, 2020, added: “The Azimzadeh family are very concerned for his health. He went on a 64-day hunger strike during his incarceration four years ago and suffered a lot. He has heart disease and kidney problems as well.
“And now that he has caught COVID-19, rather than being released, he’s in quarantine in Evin Prison’s main clinic without any resources. His family is very worried about his health.”
Prosecuted Solely for His Peaceful Labor Activism
Chairman of the Free Workers Union of Iran (FWUI), Azimzadeh, 54, was last arrested on January 29, 2018, to continue serving a 2015 sentence for six years in prison — five years for the charge of “assembly and collusion against national security” and one year for the charge of “propaganda against the state.”
The charges were based on his collection of 30,000 signatures from workers in support of a list of demands including the formation of independent unions, as well as for organizing labor protests and speaking to foreign media.
Independent unions are not recognized in Iran and peaceful labor leaders are routinely prosecuted under national security charges and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.
Based on Article 134 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code, he had to serve no more than five years of his six-year sentence. By February 2020, he had completed more than a third of his sentence, and therefore qualified for the pardon orderedby the judiciary due to the coronavirus.
In an interview with CHRI in October 2016, Azimzadeh insisted that he was being persecuted simply for his peaceful activism.
“All the charges and accusations against me are for trade union activities, such as organizing unions, non-violent labor strikes, and interviews with the media to defend workers’ rights, myself included. I am a worker,” Azimzadeh said.
The FWUI chairman added that his union was formed in 2007 on the basis of the Constitution, which states (in Article 27): “Public gatherings and marches may be freely held, provided that arms are not carried and that [the events] are not detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam.”
Free Workers Union of Iran Speaks Out Against Azimzadeh’s Continued Imprisonment
The Free Workers Union of Iran (FWUI), issued a statement on August 2, 2020 regarding Azimzadeh:
Following the legal obligation to release Jafar Azimzadeh in accordance with the Judiciary’s directive…the security agencies, in order to prevent this, initiated a completely arbitrary and willful action by filing a new case against him with great haste and, in an unprecedented fashion, the Judiciary of the Islamic Republic completed the whole process of interrogation, investigation, trial and conviction within 20 days and sentenced him to 13 months in prison for “propaganda against the Islamic Republic,” which the security establishment then ordered Branch 36 of the Appeals Court to uphold. He was informed about it in prison on August 1st.
Examples of propaganda against the Islamic Republic in this case were Azimzadeh’s protest against the lack of medical treatment for prisoners in early spring 2019, [and] condemning tyrannical sentences against Haft Tappeh [sugar mill] workers and workers who had gathered in front of the Parliament on the occasion of International Labor Day in 2019.
Azimzadeh was sentenced while he is serving a five-year sentence. He has not committed any crime. He has only defended the appeals and demands of the workers. Tyrannical prison sentences against workers by the security and judicial establishments are intended to suppress any kind of labor demands for justice and fairness. If a worker like Azimzadeh protests against the sentencing of Haft Tappeh workers and those detained on International Labor Day, or criticizes the lack of medical treatment for prisoners, he will be sentenced to re-imprisonment on the charge of propaganda against the state. If this is not blatant oppression against society, then what is?
The Free Workers Union of Iran, while expressing disgust with the re-imprisonment sentence against Azimzadeh, republishes the joint letter of political prisoners in protest against the lack of medical treatment of prisoners, which Jafar was one of the signatories, as well as his audio file protesting the prison sentences, in order to let the working class, and society as a whole, to judge what has been presented as examples of propaganda against the state, and expose to society more than ever the systematic cycle of state oppression against workers.
Free Workers Union of Iran
August 2, 2020
Read this article in Persian.