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Labor Activist Returned to Prison Amid Health Concerns

Mahmoud Salehi , labor activist, in chains while in hospital.

Imprisoned labor rights’ activist Mahmoud Salehi was transferred to the central prison in the city of Saqqez on November 11 despite doctors’ saying his health is too fragile.

Salehi’s wife, Najiba, who acts as the spokeswoman for the committee petitioning for his freedom, has accused Iran’s justice department and Intelligence Ministry of “joining hands to do their best to stop granting Salehi medical furlough.”

Security agents arrested Salehi on October 29 to commence his one-year prison sentence but five days later he was taken to the hospital in Saqqez for heart failure.

Meanwhile, Salehi’s family, citing local cardiologists, say the labor activist needs an advanced medical facility and should be transferred to a better-equipped hospital in Tabriz, Tehran, or Urmia.

Salehi’s son, Sarmand, had earlier told Radio Farda that his 45-year-old father has had two previous heart operations this year.

Salehi is a baker from the city of Saqqez in Kurdestan Province. He is one of the founders of the Coordinating Committee of Labor Organization and has been arrested several times for allegedly organizing strikes and launching labor rights movements.

“My father lost his kidneys during the last detention in 2015, but now we are really worried for his life,” Sarmand told the Iran Human Rights Monitor.

Iranian officials have not yet responded to the allegation.

Reportedly, Salehi was watched by three prison guards who had shackled and handcuffed him as he was bedbound in the hospital.

Salehi, who suffers from diabetes and lost his kidneys while imprisoned at the Intelligence Ministry’s detention center in the city of Sanandaj, regularly needs dialysis.

Seven Iranian labor associations have joined international human rights institutions in condemning the humiliating treatment. In a joint statement, they called upon the Iranian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release the labor activist.

“The topmost executive and judiciary authorities will be responsible for any possible harm to Salehi’s health,” they said.

Meanwhile, 536 Iranian labor, teachers, and social activists signed a statement protesting what they call “inhuman behavior.”

Pictures of Salehi and another prisoner of conscience, Mohammad Nazari, handcuffed and shackled on their hospital beds triggered a widespread wave of criticism on social media.

“It is regrettable that Iranian officials, instead of immediately releasing Salehi and Nazari, have treated them as criminals, persecuting, humiliating, and tying them to their beds,” AI’s researcher for Iran-related cases, Raha Bahreini, told Radio Farda.

In a letter to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) General-Secretary Sharan Burrow also voiced her deep concern over Salehi’s deteriorating health.

“Salehi should not be returned to prison and all charges against him must be canceled,” she wrote.

In an interview with Radio Farda, ITUC Iranian consultant Mehdi Kouhestaninejad insisted Salehi’s case is being watched closely.

Referring to the pictures of Salehi in his hospital bed, Kouhestaninejad criticized what he branded as Iran’s “boundless cruelty” toward labor activists.

“Despite the ruling system’s constant attempts to scare off workers and labor activists from demanding their absolute rights, we have recently witnessed a significant increase in the number of labor protest rallies,” he said.

Kouhestaninejad said the number of attempts to launch independent and nongovernmental labor unions in Iran has also increased in recent months, which, by itself, shows that Iran has failed in its systematic efforts to scare off workers.

Iran’s government has apparently decided to avoid commenting on the recent labor developments so far.