February 20, 2019
On Monday February 18, the family of imprisoned labor activist Esmail Bakhshi and a group of workers from the Haft-Tappeh Sugarcane Factory gathered outside the Justice Bureau of the city of Shush in Khuzestan province to protest against his continued arrest and the lack of information about his case.
It was the second protest in two days. A day earlier, Bakhshi’s mother and friends of the family had gone to the prosecutor’s office to ask about him. When they failed to get any answers, they protested, which resulted in authorities issuing a warrant for his mother’s arrest. When agents rushed toward her, she collapsed and was taken to hospital in a critical condition.
“Like before, Sadeghi, the head of Shush’s Intelligence Bureau, confronted Bakhshi’s mother and threatened her with arrest,” an informed source who asked to remain anonymous told IranWire.
Those gathered outside the Justice Bureau in Shush had one demand: the immediate release of Bakhshi. “After the disrespect shown to the family of Mr. Bakhshi and being given meaningless answers to their questions, when they persisted in asking about his situation, the prosecutor issued the arrest warrant,” the source said. “After the arrest warrant was issued, Esmail’s mother had a breakdown and was transferred to the hospital.”
“Esmail’s mother got into an argument with the prosecutor and he ordered her arrest,” the source said. “But when the agents realized her critical condition they gave up on arresting her.”
As of now there is no information on the whereabouts of Sepideh Gholian, the civil rights activist who had participated in protests by Haft-Tappeh workers, or about other arrested workers.
Another development concerns Esmail Bakhshi’s lawyer, Farzaneh Zilabi, who had been summoned to court in mid-February to answer questions as a “knowledgeable person” about the case. “I was summoned by Branch 3 of the Revolutionary and Civil Court of the city of Shush based on a report by the Justice Bureau’s Security Department,” she said on Sunday, February 17 after going to court. She said the summons was in connection with an interview during which “the subject of Mr. Esmail Bakhshi’s torture was brought up.” She explained that the case is ongoing and, as Bakhshi’s lawyer, she was not in a position to divulge confidential information about her client to anyone. If she did, she would be both breaking the law and violating disciplinary codes of conduct. “Considering the accusations in the report, such as ‘spreading lies,’ ‘propaganda against the regime’ and so on, I refused to answer questions that the report had directly addressed to me,” she said.
Fraud and the Haft-Tappeh Sugar Factory Directors
The Article 90 Committee of the Iranian parliament has the power to investigate the conduct of the three branches of government. It has recently investigated the finances of the Haft-Tappeh Sugarcane Factory, and on February 13, the committee released some of this information to the public. “We found out that the total currency needed [by the directors] was $12 million, but certain individuals, through collusion and by presenting fabricated documents, received an amount of 280 million euros [over $316 million],” the committee’s spokesman told reporters. “But not even one rial of this money was spent on the factory’s goals.”
While there is little doubt that the company was robbed by its corrupt directors, the authorities have persisted in persecuting workers who have staged protests over unpaid wages and lack of job security. On February 15, the Telegram Channel for Haft-Tappeh Labor Union issued a statement, reporting that Bakhshi is facing pressure to issue a statement denying his earlier claim that the Intelligence Ministry had physically and psychologically tortured him after he was arrested.
According to the Telegram report, Esmail Bakhshi has been kept in solitary confinement and has not faced further interrogation. “His continued arrest benefits security authorities from two perspectives,” the union statement reads. “First, as long as Esmail is in prison he cannot pursue his complaints about being beaten and his physical and mental torture while in custody. Moreover, during his second detention, the signs of his torture during the first detention will disappear. Second, by keeping him in solitary confinement without any interrogation, they are trying to force him to write a denial by pressuring him mentally and physically.”
The union statement criticizes the fact that Esmail Bakhshi’s complaint against Intelligence Ministry agents has been ignored. Accusing the judiciary of double standards, it demands to know why, just as it ignored Bakshi’s account, “the moment that the Intelligence Minister complains against Bakhshi they arrest him.” Along with Bakhshi’s family and supporters, the union calls for the activist’s immediate and unconditional release.