Prominent Iranian labor activist Esmail Bakhshi has called on the intelligence minister for a debate concerning torture, persecution, and maltreatment at the country’s prisons.
Bakhshi, spokesman for the labor union of the Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane industrial complex, was arrested on November 20, 2018, during ongoing demonstrations by workers demanding unpaid wages.
Bakhshi was released on December 12 after 80 international labor organizations signed a letter addressed to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei calling for all protesting workers and teachers who had been arrested in Iran for peacefully demanding their rights to be released.
According to labor activists, Bakhshi was reportedly beaten and tortured while in prison.
Activists noted that Bakhshi had suffered from internal bleeding as a result of the torture and sustained injuries to his head and face.
Human rights activists also reported that his face was bruised and swollen.
Furthermore, the Union of Workers of Tehran and the Suburbs Bus Company published a statement reporting Bakhshi “was hospitalized at a security clinic in Ahvaz,” the capital of the oil-rich province of Khuzestan, but was later returned to the initial detention facility.
The statement added that Bakhshi was subjected to “psychological abuse and physical attacks” in detention to coerce a false confession out of him.
However, the head of the Justice Department in the city of Shush, where the Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane industrial complex is located, denied the allegations.
In his first statement since being released, Bakhshi disclosed that he suffered physical abuse during the first few days of his detention.
“I was beaten up and tortured to death for no reason,” Bakhshi said. “I was so badly battered that I could not move for 72 hours in my solitary confinement cell. The pain was so unbearable that it made sleeping impossible.”
“Weeks after my release, I still feel intolerable pain in my broken ribs, left ear, and testicles,” he added.
Calling on Intelligence Minister and mid-ranking cleric Mahmoud Alavi for a debate concerning the maltreatment of detainees, the activist also said that he, along with journalist Sepideh Qolian, who was arrested at the same time, were bombarded with abusive sexual language.
Writing on his Instagram page, Bakhshi said, “The torturers, who presented themselves as the unknown soldiers of [the Shi’ite] Hidden Imam, used to shower us with vituperative sexual terms while beating us up.”
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Qolian, also a civil rights activist, was released on $120,000 bail in late December.
According to Bakhshi, his interrogators told him his phone was bugged long before his arrest.
“While beating me up, one of the interrogators said that they know everything about me, including the dispute with my wife over my labor rights activities,” Bakhshi noted on his Instagram account.
Bakhshi asked of Alavi: “As a cleric, and from the moral and human rights point of view, tell us what is the sentence for those who torture prisoners? Is torturing prisoners permissible? If it is, to what extent? Has the ministry run by you the right to secretly monitor private telephone conversations?”
The spokesman of the union of the workers of the Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane plant challenged Alavi to a live television debate on the conditions at prisons and detention centers across Iran. Alavi has not yet responded.
Iranian law enforcement and judicial authorities often do not release accurate information about detainees, especially in civil rights and political cases. There are few mechanisms to hold these authorities accountable in Iran.
The young labor union activist is currently charged with disruption of public order, assembly and collusion against national security, and participation in forming a group, intended to disrupt public security, Bakhshi’s legal counsel noted.
Bakhshi is charged at a time when, according to the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran, independent unions are not allowed to operate in Iran, striking workers often lose their jobs and risk arrest, and labor leaders who attempt to organize workers and bargain collectively are prosecuted under national security charges and sentenced to long prison terms.