Middle East


Police Beat Protesting Workers

Iranian police try to restrain demonstrators protesting in Tehran. (Photo: Atta Kenare / AFP-Getty Images)

Iranian police reportedly baton-charged and tear-gassed participants in a workers' demonstration on Sept. 16. Approximately 40 protesters were arrested and detained in the northern city of Babolsar, located in the Mazandaran province.

The gathering was attended by suspended workers of the Alborz Carpet Workshop and their families to protest their grave financial condition, and took place after the workers were repeatedly denied their employment rights by company managers for more than one year.

"The rightful and legal demands of the starving workers should not be answered by beating them," said Mazandaran workers' representative Nasrollah Daryabeigi. "Instead of ordering the police to confront the workers, authorities should have raised a lawsuit against the incapable managers who caused this situation."

State police of the Islamic Republic later denied the alleged beating of the protesters.

Alborz Carpet Workshop, which since 1977 has been a prominent machine carpet manufacturer in Iran, suspended 300 of its employees about one year ago and has repeatedly refused to fulfill its financial obligations toward them. Many salaries have not been paid in more than a year.

"It has been 18 months that we have not received any money. We are now living in poverty, borrowing from this and that, but we just have to compromise and die in our misery only because we are workers," said one of the protesters, Mehdi Reza Zadeh, in an interview with the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA).

"Eight months ago Motahhari, head manager of the company, had promised to pay our debts and we accepted the deal. After 20 days the governor said that the management was going to re-activate the factory in April and extend our contracts." Reza Zadeh had been an employee of Alborz Carpet for more than 15 years.

The company refused to renew the contracts and has since repeatedly postponed fulfilling its promises. Meanwhile protests from suspended workers and legal complaints from labor organizations to Social Security, the Ministry of Labor, and the governor of the Mazandaran province have not resulted in any improvement in the situation.

One week before the Sept. 16 incident, the Mazandaran governor's office in Babolsar reportedly called 40 representatives from the suspended workers in order to inform them that the company's manager had agreed to renew their contracts, and that they could begin to work on Saturday.

"Early in the morning [of Saturday, Sept. 16] when we went to the factory, there was no sign of those promises," said another suspended employee, Hossein Mohsen Poor to reporters Panid Fazelian and Mohammad Noroozi. "We decided to demonstrate with our families at the governor's office and demand our rights. The governor had promised us himself that we would be back at work. The local TV station had also provided the same news."

"Shortly after we got there, hundreds of anti-riot police surrounded us. They threw tear gas among us and began beating us with batons. They beat us all, no matter young or old, man or woman. They broke my wife's hand and my left ear was injured. I am having hearing problems now." Mohsen Poor continued that more than 40 of the protesters including himself got arrested and were detained for some days.

Reza Zadeh also stated that he was aggressively beaten during the reported police attack: "One of them hit me in the eye with the stock of his gun and broke my head. Then they began to beat me with batons while I was bleeding before taking me to the police station. There I fainted from bleeding, but the judge ordered to my detention. It was in the prison that they bandaged my head."

One day after the incident, the social office of the Mazandaran police basically denied that such a clash occurred, claiming that the workers had hurled stones at the governor's building but that the police avoided any engagement with them.

"If the police had not beaten us, what about all these broken hands and legs? Maybe they want to claim that we broke our own legs and hands," said suspended factory guard Nezhad Esmaili, adding that he was held in custody for three days following the event and was not released until he signed a letter. "They took our fingerprints and accused us of being politically motivated. They blamed us with civil insurgency too."

The reported beating and arrest of the workers was also confirmed by Babolsar's M.P. Hojjatollah Roohi, who condemned the police attack and asked the workers to practice patience.

The police denial mentioned that, "a protest at the Babolsar's Alborz Carpet workshop is not a new thing." This is actually true.

On Nov. 1, 2005, some hundred workers held a rally and marched to protest the non-payment of their wages. The security forces brutally attacked this protest, beating up the workers.

Human rights observers believe that the Islamic Republic of Iran has repeatedly proved its policy of non-tolerance toward any type of civil gathering or protest. Human rights defenders express concern that after Mahmood Ahmadinejad's ascension to the presidency, this method of suppression has become more widely practiced.

In January, security forces in Tehran attacked and arrested hundreds of striking bus drivers who were protesting for better working conditions. Some of them stayed weeks in detention, and the director of the Union of Workers of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company, Mansour Ossanlu, was released months after he was taken to Tehran's notorious Evin prison.

In February, security forces in the city of Qom used excessive force and tear gas to disperse hundreds of Sufi followers who had gathered in front of their house of worship to prevent its destruction by authorities.

On March 8, Iranian police and plainclothes agents forcefully broke up a peaceful assemblage of women's rights activists, beating hundreds of women and men who had gathered to commemorate International Women's Day.

In June another peaceful rally by activists to protest gender discrimination was broken up by violence; an incident during which one of the protesters, Ali Akbar Mousavi Khoeini, a former parliamentarian in the reformist party of ex-president Mohammad Khatami, was arrested at the event and still remains in Evin prison after more than three months, without any charges.

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