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Open Letter: Jailed Labor Activists in Iran Demand Action from International Labor Organization

In a joint letter to the International Labor Organization (ILO), prominent imprisoned labor activists Reza Shahabi and Davoud Razavi have issued a stark reminder: “Despite numerous reports and appeals to the ILO and other international labor bodies, no effective actions have been taken to address [labor rights] violations.” In the Persian-language letter, released May 27, 2024, ahead of the 112th Session of the International Labor Conference (June 3-14, 2024) and translated into English below by the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), the activists underscore the troubling reality that representatives of the Islamic Republic of Iran, who do not represent the country’s labor community but rather the interests of a repressive state, continue to be recognized at international labor meetings while the Iranian labor rights’ community’s calls for international support are ignored.

Shahabi and Razavi also detail the relentless persecution of labor organizers in Iran, including arrests, harassment, and imprisonment they and their colleagues endure for advocating workers’ rights, as well as highlight the ongoing struggles faced by labor activists in Iran, including teachers, students, and women’s rights defenders, all under constant surveillance and repression by Iranian authorities.

The activists, both held in Tehran’s Evin Prison, urgently call for greater support from international labor organizations and activists, demanding serious and immediate actions against the suppression of labor organizations and activists in Iran.

Shahabi was arbitrarily arrested in Tehran in May 2022 after attending a May Day rally. On January 12, 2023, the Syndicate of Workers of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company, where Shahabi was a board member, said an appeals court upheld a six-year prison sentence against Shahabi and fellow labor activist Hassan Saeedi in absentia on the sham charges of “propaganda activity against the Islamic republic” and “assembly and collusion with the intention of committing a crime against national security.” The two were also banned from leaving the country, joining political parties and using social media for a period of two years.

Razavi was arbitrarily arrested in September 2023 and convicted of the sham charge of “assembly and collusion against national security,” resulting in a five-year prison term.

Read the activists’ open letter below.

Greetings to colleagues and friends, with hopes for the victory of workers in all countries of the world.

We did not believe it was necessary to write again about the suppression of the labor movement and the violation of international conventions on freedom of association, collective agreements, the right to work and life, and work safety in Iran. We did not think there was a need to remind you once again that we and many other workers were fired, harassed, and imprisoned because we believed in labor activism and independent labor organizations. At the same time, we apologize that we are forced to write again about the harassment, prosecution, and long and cruel imprisonment imposed on us, to discuss our rightful expectations.

It has always been a serious concern for us that despite numerous and reliable reports over many years by the few independent labor organizations in Iran, including our union, the Union of Workers of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company (UWTSBC), and the Coordinating Council of the Iranian Teachers Trade Associations (CCITTA), as well as by labor unions and federations at the international level, to the International Labor Organization (ILO) regarding the violation of basic workers’ rights and the suppression of independent labor organizations and the increasing number of child laborers in Iran, the ILO has so far taken no tangible and effective measures, even within the framework of the ILO’s fundamental conventions, which all members must respect, promote, and implement. Why does this organization continue to invite fake representatives of the government, under the guise of representatives of Iranian workers, to annual meetings and in many cases even elect them to be members of the board of directors and labor committees?

We recall that following widespread arrests before and after International Labor Day in 2022, a petition from the CCITTA, signed by more than 5,500 people and supported by the UWTSBC, was submitted to the 110th World Labor Conference. In that petition, the labor delegations participating in the meeting were requested to condemn the actions of the Iranian government in the increasing violation of the rights of workers and teachers, especially the violation of the right to independent organization, as well as the violation of the right to freedom of expression and assembly. However, we did not see a response from the ILO to that petition, which was collected in difficult circumstances, even though our union is a member.

In 2005, regarding the suppression and arrest of UWTSBC activists and the systematic attacks on our union, we filed a complaint with the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) against the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran. But this organization, despite the fact that this case is open and getting worse every year, occupied itself with the responses and false claims from the representatives of the Iranian government in that organization, and as a result, has not taken any practical or effective action for nearly two decades.

Since 2005, we union members have been subjected to the wrath of employers, the government, specifically the Ministry of Intelligence, and the judiciary. We have been arrested, imprisoned, and expelled many times for creating an independent labor organization and engaging in union activity within the framework of international labor agreements and standards. During this period, hundreds of union members were arrested and beaten, and dozens were fired or suspended, and their homes raided by government agents. Meanwhile, three members of the UWTSBC have been uninterrupted targets of this anti-labor policy and sentenced to long prison terms, and despite serious health problems, have been denied medical leave by prison officials and Ministry of Intelligence agents.

On May 12, 2022, Reza Shahabi, a UWTSBC board member, was arrested at his home by security agents because of persistent trade union activities and his meeting with Cécile Kohler and her partner Jacques Paris, two members of the French labor union (FO). Shahabi was kept in isolation and under interrogation for more than four months in wards 209 and 241 in Evin Prison. In the preliminary trial, he was sentenced to six years in prison and two years of exile, and also banned from leaving the country and conducting union activity for two years. The sentence was upheld by the Appeals Court, and he is currently serving time in prison.

Davoud Razavi, a UWTSBC board member, was arrested on September 27, 2022, for continuing trade union activities and also meeting with the same two French trade unionists. He was kept in solitary confinement for four months and subjected to intense interrogations. In the preliminary trial, Razavi was sentenced to five years behind bars and banned from trade union activities for two years, which was later confirmed by the Appeals Court. He is currently serving his sentence in prison.

Hassan Saeedi, another UWTSBC board member, was arrested by security agents on May 18, 2022, for his trade union activities and meetings with the French trade unionists. He spent four months under interrogation in solitary confinement. Saeedi was sentenced by the preliminary court to six years in prison and two years of exile, and also banned from leaving the country and conducting union activity for two years, which was upheld on appeal. However, in recent days, the Supreme Court reduced his prison sentence to 3.5 years for the charge of assembly and collusion against national security, and seven months for propaganda against the state.

During the same period, hundreds of labor activists, teachers, students, and women have been fired, arrested, or imprisoned simply for engaging in union and civic activities to defend their rights. The few independent workers’ and teachers’ organizations, including our own union and teachers’ organizations, which were formed despite opposition from repressive institutions, are constantly under the microscope of the security forces, preventing the possibility of open and free activity. Dozens of workers, teachers, students, and defenders of children’s and women’s rights are currently imprisoned, including: Reyhaneh Ansarinejad, Anisha Asadollahi, Sarvenaz Ahmadi, Sharifeh Mohammadi, Nasrin Javadi, Nahid Khodajoo, Zeinab Hamrang, Osman Esmaili, Rasoul Bodaghi, Mehran Raouf, Keyvan Mohtadi, Kamyar Fakour, Cécile Kohler, Jacques Paris, and many others.

Despite this, we see that government agents under the so-called Higher Association of Islamic Labor Councils, and other fabricated bodies, which are all affiliated with the government and employers, freely and with all the financial and logistical resources and support of the security forces and the Ministry of Labor, as well as employers, are controlling and restraining labor movements and silencing the fundamental demands of workers across the country. The same government agents, while many workers and teachers like us are in prison or under persecution, participate in ILO meetings under the guise of representatives of Iranian workers, which is very unfortunate. Therefore, we emphasize that we, the workers of Iran, do not have any representatives, either in official government labor delegations from inside the country, or any person or any organization that claims to represent the Iranian workforce abroad. We do not recognize any of them.

We are aware that every year, at the same time as the ILO summit conference, international labor organizations and supporters of the Iranian working class abroad hold protest rallies in support of the imprisoned workers in Iran. They and all of us are supporters of the Iranian labor movement. We hope this year, too, due to the support of labor unions in France, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, England, and other international labor organizations, we will see wider support from our fellow workers. We also hope that complaints related to the suppression of independent labor organizations and activists in Iran would be pursued more seriously and with greater urgency, and that favorable results would be achieved in support of Iranian workers.

In conclusion, from inside Evin prison, we would like to express our solidarity with the oppressed workers and people of Iran and the world. We especially want to say that we join the working classes of the world in calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and an end to the Israeli government’s criminal war against the people of Palestine, and an end to the warmongering policies in the region by global and regional powers, and establishing sustainable peace throughout the Middle East and the world based on the interests of the general public and universal human values. Global solidarity and the united struggles of true labor organizations and other freedom-loving and justice-seeking forces are the main guarantors of establishing peace and justice in the region and the world. Strengthening these organizations and movements is a responsibility we cannot overlook in the international labor movement.

With many thanks and greetings,Reza Shahabi and Davoud RazaviMembers of UWTSBC Board of DirectorsEvin Prison, Tehran, Iran May 27, 2024

Second publication by courtesy of Iran Human Rights


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