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Labor Rights Activist’s Health ‘Deteriorating’ in Prison

Iran -- Reza Shahabi, the Treasurer of the Union, was arrested in Iran, undated

Imprisoned Iranian labor activist Reza Shahabi’s health is in a critical state and human rights groups are calling for his immediate and unconditional release.

In a statement published January 28, the “Free Reza Shahabi” campaign said Shahabi is subject to increased intimidation and pressure as a political prisoner in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, where rights groups say inmates are regularly mistreated, tortured, and even killed.

Shahabi, who was the treasurer for the Union of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company, was recently transferred, according to the union, from Rajaei Shahr prison to a hospital and then to Evin

“He has been under severe pressure to the extent that he suffers from constant hypertension, and physicians have cautioned that Mr. Shahabi urgently needs to be hospitalized and undergo surgery” the campaign said in a statement.

The 45-year-old Shahabi is reportedly suffering from high blood pressure, neck and back pain, numbness, and mild stroke.

A veteran labor rights activist, Shahabi was initially arrested and sentenced to five years in prison in 2010, accused of “actions against national security,” an ambiguous charge often leveled against activists in Iran.

Tehran: Dozens demonstrated in front of parliament demanding release of Reza Shahabi from Prison.
Tehran: Dozens demonstrated in front of parliament demanding release of Reza Shahabi from Prison.

Shahabi’s poor health lead prison authorities to grant him a medical furlough at one point, but after he was released he was told the furlough was not approved by the Prosecutor-General and he was sent back to prison with an additional 968 days tacked on to his sentence for his “unauthorized” leave.

Shahabi’s attempts to clarify the misunderstanding were unsuccessful, and when his protests fell on deaf ears he went on hunger strike. Soon after, his health deteriorated to the extent that international human rights organizations and the International Trade Union Confederation (ILNA) issued statements calling for his unconditional release.

“The members of the High Center for Islamic Labor Councils have intervened and called upon the Labor Minister to use all his influence to release Shahabi,” the ILNA said in a statement.

A protest was held in front of Iranian parliament in September demanding his release. The police forcibly dispersed the protestors.

Human rights activists have repeatedly declared that Reza Shahabi’s only “crime” has been defending labor rights and encouraging workers in Iran to launch their own independent trade unions.

Article 26 of the Islamic Republic’s Constitution explicitly stipulates, “The formation of parties, societies, political or professional associations, as well as religious societies, whether Islamic or pertaining to one of the recognized religious minorities, is permitted provided they do not violate the principles of independence, freedom, national unity, the criteria of Islam, or the basis of the Islamic Republic.”