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Iran must free union activists from unspeakable torture

28 Jun 2022
Credit: CC روزي روزجاري أوين

Iranian union leader Reza Shahabi is once again in prison being tortured, on hunger strike, and denied access to medical facilities, following his involvement in May Day protests.

The International Transport Workers’ Union (ITF) joins a broad range of organisations in condemning his arrest and barbarous treatment, imposed on him by a despotic regime solely because he engaged in legitimate union actions.

“Our information is that Reza is in Evin prison, suffering from severe back and neck pain as a result of beatings,” said Stephen Cotton, the ITF’s General Secretary. “He also has a chronic heart condition. He is currently on hunger strike in protest over Iranian authorities’ refusal to give him medical help and so we can expect his condition to get steadily worse.

“Despite all this, they continue to torture him.

“The situation is beyond outrageous. Iran is bulldozing even the most basic human rights of this man and many other people. We demand Reza’s immediate transfer to hospital and a halt to his imprisonment and torture.”

May Day protests

Shahabi is a member of the board of directors of the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company (an ITF affiliate union) and was one of a number of trade union activists arrested following strikes and protests over low and unpaid wages on May Day 2022. Teachers, and other labour and social activists have been arrested, together with 11 Tehran bus workers.

Hassan Saeidi, a well-known member of the Tehran bus drivers’ union was arrested on 17 May. Shahabi himself was arrested on 18 May.

The families of labour and teacher activists currently incarcerated in Evin prison, have been denied access to their loved ones.

Shahabi was imprisoned by Iran in 2010 for legitimate protests. He was released into hospital in 2014 for severe back pain, liver and kidney mis-function and heart problems all of which related to his torture in prison. In 2017, he was re-arrested and was only released in March 2018.

“Reza is just once example of the Iranian government’s long-term persecution of union leaders,” said Cotton. “Iran repeatedly demonstrates a total contempt for basic rights, despite ratifying International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions. The regime denies the right to free association, free expression, assembly, protest, and strike — all enshrined in ILO conventions.”

Worker protests were triggered by Iran’s collapsing economy, where the cost of living has risen dramatically but pay has not kept pace. In some cases, workers have not been paid at all because of the financial situation. An authoritarian reaction to protests is not unusual in Iran, but appears to have been especially brutal this time around, possibly because the regime is struggling to keep the economy under control.

“Iran cannot solve its problems through the oppression of workers. Rather it should be working with free and independent unions to find a better way forward,” said Cotton. “The ITF calls on the Iranian government to immediately and unconditionally release all bus workers, teachers, labour and human rights activists who are being held in prison, contrary to their human rights. The country must end the repression of workers and trade unionists and start to respect their rights.”