November 23, 2018
Five Iranian activists detained in southern Iran for participating in a two-week-long labor protest have been put under investigation for alleged national security offenses.
The five activists were among 20 detained by Iranian authorities Sunday in the city of Shush in a crackdown on peaceful protests by workers of the nearby Haft Tapeh sugar cane plantation. Ali Nejati, a former labor leader at the plantation, told VOA Persian in a Tuesday phone interview that 15 of those detained were freed on bond late Monday.
Workers at the plantation and their supporters have been staging daily rallies outside local government buildings in Shush since Nov. 5 to demand months of unpaid wages and the removal of private owners, whom they accuse of mismanaging and abandoning the complex, founded in the 1950s.
The five activists who remained in detention include four men who work at the plantation and a female activist from the southern city of Ahvaz, Sepideh Ghaliyan. Iran’s Human Rights Activist News Agency (HRANA) reported that Ghaliyan previously had been arrested in Ahvaz in February 2017.
In reports published Wednesday by the state-run Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA), a female lawyer seeking to represent the five detainees said authorities in Shush initially agreed to release them on bond to await trial for allegedly disturbing public order. But Farzaneh Zilabi said those authorities later informed her that the detainees also face allegations of national security offenses and would remain in custody until the completion of an investigation.
“All the workers were happy to hear about the promised release of their colleagues, and suddenly this bad development happened and affected everyone,” Zilabi told ILNA.
In a further setback to the detained activists, Nejati said Iranian authorities informed Zilabi that she could not represent the detainees in court because she is not on a list of lawyers approved by the judiciary to handle national security cases.
A Telegram channel for Haft Tapeh workers confirmed that prosecutors in Shush had opened a new security-related case against the five remaining detainees. It said the move appears to be an effort to intimidate other workers who rallied again in Shush on Wednesday, the 17th day of the protests.