While hundreds of workers at the Azarab and Hepco industrial units in the city of Arak in central Iran are still on strike, the chief executive officer of Azarab has been detained.
“As the Justice Department has issued the order for detention of Azarab factory’s CEO, there is no further information available,” Iran Labor News Agency (ILNA) cited a representative of the Cooperation, Labor, and Social Welfare Ministry, Mohammad Taqi Abaei Hezaveh, as saying.
The province’s police commander, Kioumars Azizi, also confirmed that Azarab’s CEO was legally summoned and detained by police on September 24.
“The reason behind the detention is soon to be announced by judicial officials,” Azizi said.
However, in an interview with ILNA, the head of the Center for Coordination of Islamic Labor Councils in the central province, Abolfazl Pourvafaei, maintained, “Azarab’s CEO was one of the elements of recent days’ unrest in the province.”
Furthermore, Pourvafaei told ILNA, “After Azarab workers held a protest assembly and its subsequent unpleasant events, Azarab’s officials settled 18 million rials (roughly $536) wages of each worker; whereas they could have done that before the outbreak of protests. Therefore, it is believed that the unpleasant events that endangered the province’s security were the outcome of mismanagement by Azarab’s CEO.”
Pourvafaei was referring to the anti-riot police forces that stormed the protest assembly and reportedly beat Azarab and Hepco workers on September 19.
A day later, the anti-riot police once again stormed Azarab, shooting tear gas and attacking the protesters with batons. An unknown number of workers were wounded and taken to hospitals.
The violent clashes were followed by waves of criticism.
In two separate letters, 11 MPs addressed Interior Minister Abdor-Reza Rahmani Fazli. No response from the minister has yet been reported. However, four years ago he told ILNA that “confrontation is not a suitable response to workers’ demands” and one should listen to both sides.
The deputy speaker of the Iranian Parliament, Ali Motahari, insisted on September 24, “The right to protest is not only the workers’, but everyone’s, provided being unarmed and not contradicting Islamic rules. No one should confront such protests.”
Trade unions have also joined the chorus, condemning the bloody events in Arak.
Nevertheless, on September 21, Azizi defended its forces’ reaction to the protests. “The police forces are in no way against workers’ livelihoods, but in some cases they are dutybound to use their legal means to preserve law and order,” he said.
Meanwhile, Hepco and Azarab workers have ended their protest gatherings but are continuing their strike.
“Azarab and Hepco workers are present at their workplace but in protest of their unpaid wages have stopped working and are lying around the industrial compounds,” Hezaveh told ILNA on September 25.
Azarab and Hepco are privatized factories manufacturing heavy equipment, including for road construction, oil, gas, and petrochemical industries. Each has the capacity to employ more than 3,000 workers but has only 900 workers.