CHRI – Despite the apparent end of investigations by judicial authorities against labor activist Esmail Bakhshi and freelance reporter Sepideh Qoliyan, the two have not been offered bail and continue to be held, without access to a lawyer, for almost two months, awaiting trial. No date has been set for the trial.
The Haft Tappeh workers union news channel on Telegram on March 5 reported Bakhsi was taken from the Intelligence Ministry’s detention center in Ahvaz to the city’s Sheyban Prison, and that Qoliyan was taken to the Sepidar Prison for women (also in Ahvaz).
Bakhshi, a Haft Tappeh worker and union representative, and Qoliyan, also a peaceful advocate of workers’ rights in Iran, were initially arrested on November 18, 2018, and detained for roughly a month in an Intelligence Ministry-run detention center in Ahvaz.
Informed sources that report on labor issues told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on March 12, 2019, that the two have still not been given any access to legal counsel since they were re-arrested on January 20 for revealing acts of torture committed by Intelligence Ministry agents during their initial detention.
Jamal Heidari, Qoliyan’s lawyer, wrote on his Instagram on March 6, 2019: “The judicial authorities have shut every avenue to gain access to this case by incorrectly basing their decision on the Note to Article 48 of the Criminal Procedures Regulations, even in regards to charges that are not related to national security. There is no ban on visitation and by law she has the right to see her lawyer but it is not clear why she is being denied this right.”
The Note to Article 48 of Iran’s Criminal Procedures Regulations limits the choice of defense lawyers to those approved by the Judiciary Chief in cases of “crimes against internal or external security.”
Meanwhile, labor activists at the Haft Tappel sugar mill near Shush also reported on March 11, 2019, that Bakhshi’s salary as the company’s employee had been cut off.
“Esmail Bakhsi’s salary for the [Iranian] month of Dey (December 22, 2018 – January 20, 2019) has not yet been paid at a time when it is the only source of his family’s income,” according to the Telegram app channel of the Haft Tappeh sugar mill workers’ union.
The union reported the latest situation as follows:
On Wednesday, March 13, Haft Tappeh workers who had retired in 2017 and 2018 held a protest at the mill and production came to a halt when other workers walked off the job. The workers had been promised to receive all their unpaid wages, including a bonus for the Iranian New Year (March 21, 2019), but they still have not been paid for the month of Bahman (January 21 – February 19, 2019). (Lack of payment of back wages is a chronic problem in Iran, with workers having little recourse.)
When Haft Tappeh workers went to the Social Security Organization office to renew their health insurance booklets, they were turned away and told that the company had not paid for their insurance.
Frustrated by the lack of response from judicial and security authorities, Bakhsi’s mother (name unknown) has been holding sit-ins in front of the sugar mill’s security office.
“On March 10 we witnessed the workers’ passion aroused by the presence of Bakhshi’s mother at the company. We showed that we have not forgotten him and are confident of his innocence,” the workers’ union reported.
On March 11, the workers’ union reported: “The presence of Bakhshi’s mother in the Haft Tappeh sugar mill holding a poster of her son until 14:30 hours coincided with the exit of the day-shift workers, about 200 of whom joined her in the protest.”