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Labor Activist Receives Short Reprieve After Stroke In Prison

Labor activist Reza Shahabi after his release from prison on February 8, 2018. It is clearly visible that a stroke he had in jail left his left side damaged.

A day after dozens of prominent lawyers in Iran called for the immediate release of labor rights activist Reza Shahabi from prison, he was freed on bail for five days.

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

A photo received after Shahabi’s release clearly show the physical effects of being denied proper medical care. He suffered strokes in prison that have partially paralyzed the left side of his body.

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.

Evoking International Labor Organization (ILO) protocols in their statement, 32 Iranian attorneys and legal experts had insisted that Reza Shahabi should be immediately freed in order to seek medical treatment.

Reza Shahabi before his imprisonment.
Reza Shahabi before his imprisonment.

Article 2 of ILO’s protocol 87 clearly stipulates that “Workers and employees, without distinction whatsoever, shall have the right to establish and, subject only to the rules of the organization concerned, to join organizations of their own choosing without previous authorization.”

The lawyers noted that Tehran is one of the signatories of ILO’s protocols and conventions and is expected to respect them without reservation.

Furthermore, they argued that Shahabi has always conducted his labor rights activities in accordance with Iran’s constitution.

Article 26 of Iran’s constitution 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. No one may be prevented from participating in the aforementioned groups; or be compelled to participate in them.”

Shahabi, who was the treasurer for the Union of Workers of Tehran and the Suburban Bus Company (UWTSBC), was recently transferred, according to the union, from Rajaei Shahr prison to a hospital, and then to Tehran’s notorious Evin prison.

“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 lawyers said in a statement.

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

Shahabi is not the only labor activist behind bars in the Islamic Republic’s prisons. Labor and teachers’ rights activists Mehdi Farahi Shandiz, Isma’il Abdi, Mahmoud Beheshti Langaroudi, Mokhtar Assadi, and Mohesen Emrani are currently serving sentences, while two members of UWTSBC’s board of directors, Ebrahim Madadi and Davoud Razavi are waiting for their verdict.

Among the lawyers who signed the petition are Mahmoud Alizadeh Tabatabaei, Ms. Mitra Azarm, Arash Kaykhosravi, Ma’soumeh Fanaeian, Yousef Molaei, Saleh Nikbakht, and Ms. Nasrin Sotoudeh.

Many international labor organizations, including the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and International Union of Industrial Workers, have also called upon Islamic Republic officials to release Shahabi.

The Islamic Republic’s judiciary have so far ignored these calls.