Middle East


Release of Union Leaders Urged

Iranian protesters sit in the corridor of Tehran's Evin prison after being detained during an anti-government protest. (Photo: AFP-Getty Images)

Protests were held around the world by union activists and workers on Aug. 9, in which Iranian authorities were urged to release prominent labor activist and Suburbs Bus Company's director, Mansour Ossanlu, from prison. The protest held in Iran was harshly confronted, where it resulted in more arrests.

The campaign, dubbed as an "International Day of Action," was initiated by International Transport Workers' Federation (I.T.F.) to defend the Union of Workers of Tehran, and to protest the arrest of Ossanlu and his fellow bus drivers.

The move was strongly supported by Amnesty International, the International Trade Union Confederation (I.T.U.C.), along with other union organizations worldwide.

Activists from more than 30 countries joined the call by attending gatherings in front of Iranian embassies or through signing letters of protest, which were handed to authorities of the Islamic Republic.

The countries — Algeria, Australia, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Canada, Egypt, France, Germany, Great Britain, Indonesia, Finland, Japan, Jordan, Malaysia, Morocco, Nepal, Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Palestine, Panama, Romania, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Tunisia, Trinidad, the United States and Yemen — hosted protests about Ossanlu's detention.

Calls have also been made demanding the release of Mahmud Salehi, leader of an independent baker's union in Iran's Kurdistan province, who was arrested in the city of Saquez along with six other union activists for attempting to celebrate May Day with a public rally.

"I'm optimistic regarding this campaign, [but] we can't be 100 percent optimistic that Iranian officials will retreat from the sentences and arrests," Salehi's wife told the Persian-language Radio Farda.

On the morning of the "Action Day," at least five members of the Executive Board of the bus drivers' union were arrested on their way to their union leader's house. The detainees included Yaghoob Salimi, Davoud Razavi, Homayoon Jaberi, Ebrahim Gohari, and the deputy head of Tehran's bus union.

"If the Iranian Government wanted to know why workers worldwide are putting them under pressure, then they've just supplied the answer," I.T.F. General Secretary David Cockroft told Amnesty International. "Today's arrests and intimidation show that despite all the reasonable approaches made to them in the last two years, they have locked themselves into a descending course of continued repression."

According to unconfirmed sources, the number of detainees might be more than five but their identities remain unknown.

At the same time state security agents were reportedly positioned at Ossanlu's house. "There are a lot of security personnel in front of our door," said Ossanlu's wife, Parvaneh, to Radio Farda. "We feel insecure. My children are worried and upset. It's a very abnormal situation. We're innocent here, we have nothing, we are under pressure for nothing."

Ossanlu, 47, who has earned worldwide recognition for his consistent support for union activities was attacked and abducted from a bus by unidentified assailants on July 10.

Authorities in Tehran refused to acknowledge the arrest for two days, after which Tehran Public Prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi admitted that Ossanlu was being held in Tehran's notorious Evin prison.

According to lawyers in Tehran, since then he has been denied legal and medical visits, despite problems with an eye wound that he sustained in a previous attack. He also suffers from a fragile heart condition.

The incident took place weeks after the Iranian bus union leader had returned from a visit to the I.T.F. in London and meetings with union leaders in Brussels.Ossanlu has continuously been under pressure during the last two years, getting arrested in different incidents for his activism in defense of union rights.

"The news for them is that we won't go away. Mansour, trade unionists around the world and, indeed, their own people aren't going to give up," said Cockroft, according to an Amnesty International report. "The demand is a reasonable one — the basic right to belong to a union. The government's clumsy, brutal attempts to stifle it are just making it heard more widely and strongly."

During the past two years, and following the ascension of the hard-line Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Iran's presidency, there has been a marked increase in incidents where police have clashed with union activists and workers.

A strike involving the bus drivers of Tehran, where they demanded recognition of their legal union rights, and well-attended demonstrations by teachers across the country to protest low wages, have sparked harsh confrontations with police, leading to hundreds of arrests.

Other labor protests, for both union rights and unpaid salaries, have taken place in different parts of Iran. Not surprisingly, security forces have forcefully interfered in each case.

International human rights groups have repeatedly criticized the "suppression of activists" and "an intolerance toward peaceful gatherings" from Iranian authorities. They have also urged Tehran to recognize its citizens' union rights, which are acknowledged in the country's Constitution.

Iranian officials have rejected the criticisms, stating that they do recognize the "legal" rights of the workers. They posit that the detainees are those who have tried to "undermine the Islamic Republic's principals" through disrupting public order; often connecting them to "foreign hands."

In another recent occurrence, 11 workers in the city of Sanandaj have been sentenced to three months in prison on charges of disrupting public order, in addition to receiving 10 lashes, for attending a gathering on May Day.

View the Worldpress Desk’s profile for Niusha Boghrati.