CHRI – Anti-riot police forces stormed peaceful protests by workers at two industrial units in Arak, the capital of Iran’s Central Province, on September 19, 2017, and arrested several people, according to information received by the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
A labor activist who asked not to be identified for security reasons told CHRI that day that several workers were detained during the protests against the Heavy Equipment Production Company (HEPCO) and the Azarab Industries Company.
“The police and anti-riot forces went on the attack and beat and arrested anyone they could and took them to the security police detention center [in Arak, 173 miles south of Tehran],” added the source. “We don’t know how many are in detention or what they have been charged with. But we think there are 20 to 30 in custody.”
The protesters are demanding several months of unpaid wages and benefits, added the source.
The state-funded Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported on the protests but omitted the use of force by the police.
Images shared on social media show violence against the protesters and a heavy presence of anti-riot police forces. In one video clip, protesters are heard shouting, “Poor workers don’t deserve to be beaten.”
According to ILNA, the workers protesting against Azarab have not been paid for four months, despite promises by company and provincial officials in July 2017 that they would be issued back pay.
At HEPCO, workers have not been paid their salaries and benefits for at least six months since January 2017.
“The Constitution does not consider peaceful demonstrations a crime,” the labor activist told CHRI. “If a worker has not received his pay and his wife and children are hungry, he has no choice but to protest. The judiciary should force the employer to pay instead of throwing the workers in jail.”
According to Article 27 of Iran’s Constitution: “Public gatherings and marches may be freely held, provided arms are not carried and that they are not detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam.”
“The workers were unarmed and their gathering had nothing to do with Islam and yet it was the police who were armed and fired shots into the air,” added the activist. “I hope the judiciary will look into these unconstitutional actions by the police.”
Independent labor unions are banned in Iran, strikers are often fired and risk being detained, and labor leaders face long prison sentences on trumped up national security charges.
Prominent labor rights activist Reza Shahabi has been on hunger strike in Rajaee Shahr Prison in Karaj, west of Tehran, since August 9, 2017, to protest being returned to prison after being released on medical leave.
Other imprisoned labor rights leaders include teachers’ rights advocates Esmail Abdi and Mahmoud Beheshti Langroudi.