By Shahed Alavi
February 5, 2019
A relative of Esmail Bakhshi has told IranWire that the jailed strike leader’s health has deteriorated since being re-arrested on January 20 — and that he faces serious and permanent medical problems if he does not receive medical attention urgently.
It has been two weeks since authorities re-arrested Esmail Bakhshi, one of the key leaders of the striking Haft-Tappeh Sugarcane Company workers in the southwestern province of Khuzestan, and Sepideh Gholian, a civil rights activist who supported them. The arrests followed the pair’s insistence that authorities had forced them to confess to crimes they had not committed — confessions that were broadcast on Iranian state television.
Now Haft-Tappeh Independent Labor Union’s Telegram channel has called on reliable sources to report that Bakhshi’s health has become worse. However, both the Intelligence Bureau of the Khuzestani capital of Ahvaz and the prosecutor of the city of Dezful where Bakhshi is being held refuse to grant him a medical leave of absence in an apparent effort to punish him further and to apply increasing pressure on his family.
Bakhshi endured torture during his first period of incarceration and required medical treatment after his release. One of his relatives, who asked to remain anonymous, told IranWire that his doctors believe if his treatment does not continue it may cause irreparable damage to his health.
“As a result of extensive physical and psychological damage that Esmail suffered during his first arrest, his health was not good and he was being treated but the treatment stopped after he was arrested again two weeks ago,” the source said. “Esmail’s doctor has told his family that he must be under medical care and must have access to his medication. His family has appealed to the prosecutor but it has yet to receive any response. We believe that the Intelligence Bureau is taking revenge on Esmail and his family — and someone who is after revenge does not care much about law, morality and humanity.”
An earlier IranWire report published details about Bakhshi’s transfer from prison to the courthouse: “Around 12 noon they brought a shackled Esmail out of the courthouse next to Dezful prison,” one eyewitness said on Monday, January 28. “Three plainclothes agents and an agent of the riot police accompanied him and took him away in a white Peugeot Pars. [The area] around Esmail’s eyes were dark because, I think, he was suffering from sleep deprivation and fatigue.”
Since then, neither Bakhshi’s lawyer nor his family has confirmed whether they successfully met him that day, or provided information about why he was taken from the Intelligence Ministry’s detention to the courthouse.
According to our source, the reason for his transfer could have been to extend his arrest warrant, even though authorities had demanded an extra bail amount in addition to what had been posted earlier. “The family was able to see him but they could not talk to him,” he said. “He did not look good and seeing him made them worry more. They [the authorities] told the family to get another property deed [for bail] worth 500 million tomans [close to $112,000] so that there would be no delay when the conditions for his release are right. Of course, they did not say when the ‘conditions’ might be right.”
According to the Haft-Tappeh Independent Labor Union’s Telegram channel, Esmail Bakhshi’s second arrest and torture are tactics to silence him. “Judiciary and security officials delay his release and continue to hold Esmail Bakhshi hostage and torture him so that he will be half dead and will have to stay silent and receive treatment for a long, long time,” the Telegram message said. “Judiciary officials themselves issued the writ for his bail — but they refuse to accept the writ that they have issued themselves.”
Bakhshi’s relative told IranWire that his family is extremely worried and do not know what to do and to whom to appeal. “The union’s Telegram channel says that if this situation continues they will invite the workers to protest and to go on strike,” he said. “Well, practically there is no other option but this. The Islamic Republic does not adhere to its own laws. In such a situation what can be done except raising your voice in protest? They are accountable for the life of Esmail Bakhshi and, of course, the life of Ms. Sepideh Gholian. They know well that in the last round of their arrests they tortured them and this time they are trying to silence them as well by torturing and terrorizing them more.”
A group of Iranian lawyers have written a letter [Persian link] to Javaid Rehman, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran, expressing their concerns about the cases of Esmail Bakhshi and Sepideh Gholian and urging him to raise them during a special session of the UN’s Human Rights Council. According to the lawyers, Bakhshi and Gholian have been denied due process of the law and they say that, as with most political detainees in Iran, their rights have been violated. In the letter, the lawyers informed Javaid Rehman that they had previously sent two letters to Iranian officials [Persian link] but had not received a reply, leaving them with no option but to appeal to him.
On January 25, a major international labor union called on Iran to immediately release the labor activists who appear to have been tortured in custody late last year. The London-based International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) addressed the appeal in a letter to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. There was “credible evidence,” the letter said, that the confessions of several labor activists featured in a recently-broadcast state television program had been obtained through threats, beatings and torture. “Such violations of basic human rights must cease immediately,” the ITF General Secretary Stephen Cotton wrote to Rouhani. “I call on you to both stop such torture, and to immediately release these detainees.”
Prisoners of Conscious
Amnesty International has also spoken out on the cases. “Iranian labor rights activists Esmail Bakhshi and Sepideh Gholian, who were rearrested on 20 January after speaking out about beatings and other abuse they suffered in detention in late 2018, are at grave risk of further torture,” the group announced in a statement on January 29. “The authorities must release them immediately and unconditionally as they are prisoners of conscious jailed solely on the basis of their peaceful activism in defense of workers’ rights.”
“The activists were first arrested on 18 November 2018 after attending a peaceful protest in front of the governor’s office in Shush, Khuzestan over the unpaid wages of workers at Haft-Tappeh sugar cane company,” the statement read. “Following their release on bail in mid-December, they revealed publicly that they had suffered torture at the hands of security police and intelligence officials, both in Shush and Ahvaz. They said they had been repeatedly beaten, slammed against a wall and shoved to the ground, humiliated with sexual insults, and threatened with flogging, sexual violence and murder. The Iranian authorities initially responded by promising to investigate the torture allegations. However, within days, key state officials, including the head of the judiciary, the country’s chief prosecutor and the head of the president’s office, made statements claiming that the allegations of torture were false and threatened to file a complaint against Esmail Bakhshi for bringing the Islamic Republic system into disrepute.”
In a naïve attempt to answer allegations of tortures, Iranian authorities decided to broadcast Bakhshi’s and Gholian’s forced confessions on state TV. However, they did not achieve the intended results. Many people on social media responded, stating that, on the contrary, the forced confessions proved that they must have been tortured to make the confessions.