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Iran Labor Leaders To Stand Trial In Revolutionary Courts

Haft-Tappeh sugar cane factory workers in a protest in Western Iran. Esmail Bakhshi in center. November 2018.

The trial of Esmaeil Bakhshi, Ali Nejati and other defendants arrested amid protests and strikes at the Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane industrial complex in the city of Shush, southwest Iran, has been referred to the Revolutionary Court in Tehran.

The Revolutionary Courts, set up after the Islamic Revolution in 1979, are tasked with trying those suspected of crimes like espionage, blasphemy, smuggling, attempting to overthrow the government, and other national security crimes. However, critics say the revolutionary courts are often used when authorities want a harsher sentence and more secrecy than could be achieved in regular penal courts.

Farzaneh Zilabi, the attorney representing several workers of the sugar mill plant, has bitterly criticized the decision on social media.

"A member of the Haft Tapeh workers’ union, Esmaeil Bakhshi, and a member of the board of directors of the same trade union, are behind bars merely for going on strike and attending protest rallies,” she wrote on Telegram.

Hundreds of activists and international human rights defenders have demanded the unconditional and immediate release of workers and labor leaders arrested during strikes and protests at the plant. Workers of the Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane complex have repeatedly gone on strike over the last several months, demanding overdue wages and the return of their plant's ownership to the public sector.

Meanwhile, Zilabi noted that the Justice Department has not responded to Bakhshi’s complaint against the ultraconservative daily Kayhan and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)-run Fars news agency. Bakhshi filed a lawsuit against the two conservative media two months ago. Last January, Fars news agency and Kayhan reported that Bakhshi was arrested while trying to escape. However, Bakhshi insists he was arrested while sleeping in his bedroom.

Bakhshi is the spokesperson of the Haft Tapeh sugar mill workers. He was arrested first in November, and after his release claimed he was tortured. Days later, on January 20 he was arrested again, and there was scant news about his situation. A civil rights activist who had attested to Bakhshi’s torture was also arrested on the same day.

Bakhshi’s family and his attorney say they have been denied access to him in prison.

Meanwhile, several retired plant workers assembled at the factory's compound again March 19 demanding their overdue wages.

Following the assembly, the Haft Tapeh Workers Syndicate reported that production lines at the industrial complex came to a halt, and all workers stopped working.

Current plant workers say they have not received their bonuses and wages for months. Furthermore, since the insurance subsidy of the workers has also not been paid, the Social Security Organization has not renewed the workers’ social insurance coverage.