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Activist's Torture Complaint Raises Sensitivity, Mobilizes Some Politicians In Iran

Iran - Haft Tapeh - Esmail Bakhshi (sitting C)after his release from prison among friends and coworkers. File photo

Outspoken MP and deputy speaker of the Iranian Parliament, Ali Motahari has called on Iran's intelligence Minister to order an investigation into the allegations of ministry agents torturing a labor activist.

In a commentary in reformist daily newspaper Etemad on Sunday January 6, Motahari asked Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi to probe into the complaints made by labor activist Esmail Bakhshi and to declare if there was a legal basis for what has allegedly been done to him by intelligence ministry agents.

In recent days Bakhshi had complained that he was subjected to violent physical and psychological torture and Intelligence Ministry agents illicitly listened to his conversation with his wife while he was in jail.

In another development, former reformist MP and prominent academic Fatemeh Koolai addressed President Hassan Rouhani in a tweet: "Mr Rouhani! The people of Iran voted for a lawyer. Tell people they have voted for the right man by attending to Bakhshi's complaints. Otherwise, the people could have voted for a colonel."

Koolai was referring to Rouhani's election campaign in 2013 against an ex-military candidate. He had said: "I am a lawyer. Not a colonel."

Days earlier, prominent Iranian labor activist Esmail Bakhshi on his Instagram page had 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 Mill, was arrested on November 18, 2018, during ongoing demonstrations by workers demanding unpaid wages. Some 80 labor unions across the world protested against Bakhshi's imprisonment.

Bakhshi, who was released from jail on December 12, wrote that he was beaten and tortured while in prison. He said that the agents broke his ribs, and did beat him while swearing at him. The activist says he went unconscious as a result of torture, and that he still feels pain in his chest and testicles some two months after what happened to him in jail. "I wasn't able to move or sleep for some 72 hours after torture," said Bakhshi.

Motahari called on the Intelligence Minister to give a convincing response to Bakhshi's complaint, adding that "If what Bakhshi is saying is true, it means there are still elements within the ministry that believe they can use any means against the inmates. This is a shameful record for an administration that took office with the slogan of hope, freedom and defending human rights."

Motahari asked: "News of torture does not look good on the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Republic while chapter 3 of its Constitutional Law bans any form of physical and psychological torture in order to force people to make confession."

Meanwhile, Bakhsi's complaint that he was tortured in prison have led to other members of parliament pursuing the case and student groups demanding a debate with Iran's intelligence minister.

MP Alireza Rahimi says the case is to be referred to the Majles national security committee which is going to investigate the case with the Intelligence Minister present at the parliament.

The reformist Omid (Hope) faction in the parliament is planning to have a meeting with officials of the intelligence ministry and ask for a report about Bakhsi's complaint, according to its spokesperson, Fatemeh Saeedi.

Mohammad Kazemi, a member of parliament’s judicial commission, also demanded that Bakhshi’s complaints about torture should be investigated by the parliament.

Meanwhile, 34 student organizations from various Iranian universities in a letter to the intelligence minister have asked for a televised debate and have voiced readiness to host the event.

In the meantime, some local officials tried to push Bakhshi's complaint under the carpet by categorically denying his claims.

At the same time, calls for explanations by some MPs indicate that Iranian officials may have learned a lesson from the fate of politicians such as former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi and former Majles Speaker Mehdi Karroubi (who have been under house arrest since 2011), and former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani who when in power failed to condemn violation of human rights. They failed to protest against the house arrest of clerics such as Hossein Ali Montazeri and Ahmad Azari Qomi, and kept silent in the face of unfair trials and imprisonments of their former allies, and ended up being treated unfairly by hardliners.

Now other officials may have realized that respect for human rights could prevent similar fates for them in the future.

Another reason could be the prospect of possible rise to power of a new Judiciary chief, Ebrahim Raisi, who has an ill reputation for miscarriage of justice in terms of unfair trials and administering disproportionate sentences.

Numerous reports have recently spoken about Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s intention to appoint the hardline cleric as head of Iran’s Judiciary. Raisi was part of a group of judges and officials who were responsible for a mass killing of political prisoners in the late 1980s.

Politicians and activists protesting against torture may be trying to establish respect for law and citizenship rights before somebody like Raisi takes office, by naming and shaming