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Labor Activists Detained, Released As Strikes And Protests Continue

Workers of Ahvaz steel factory continue their protest on Monday Dec 10, 2018. Wearing white shrouds is a symbol of readiness for martyrdom.
Workers of Ahvaz steel factory continue their protest on Monday Dec 10, 2018. Wearing white shrouds is a symbol of readiness for martyrdom.

Five labor and civil rights activists detained by the Iranian security forces have been released, the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company (SWTSBC) announced on December 11, hours after reporting their detainment.

SWTSBC members Reza Shahabi and Hassan Saeidi were detained in Tehran on the night of December 10, along with civil rights activists Amir-Abbas Azarmvand, Roham Yeganeh, and Kayvan Mohtadi and taken to an unknown location.

It is not yet clear why they were arrested.

Shahabi, SWTSBC treasure and a veteran labor rights activist, was arrested and sentenced to five years in 2010 on charges of actions against national security, a routine yet ambiguous claim that Iranian courts use to condemn whoever the establishment decides is a dissident.

Under international pressure, Shahabi was released last March.

Meanwhile, workers at the Iran National Steel Industrial Group (INSIG) continued their strike for the 24th consecutive day under the banner of "Humiliation, Never!", the Free Trade Union of Iranian Workers reported on it its Telegram account.

Based on the union's report, INSIG workers held an assembly protest on December 11 outside the National Bank office in Ahvaz, the capital of oil-rich Khuzestan Province, while workers rallied in support outside the Iranian Parliament in Tehran.

Workers in Tehran demanded the release of the representative of the workers of Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane Plant, Esmaeil Bakhshi, and his colleague Ali Bakhshi, as well as journalist and civil rights activist Sepideh Qolian.

INSIG workers are demanding long overdue wages, feeding their industrial complex with raw materials, and restoring production lines.

Protest assemblies in Iran, particularly in Khuzestan, have gained momentum recently and entered a new phase.

As the ailing Iranian economy faced renewed U.S. sanctions, a crisis has begun, which has led to labor strikes, protests and intermittent unrest in Iran in 2018.

Teachers across Iran, supported by university students, have also held sit-in protests, calling for better pay and free, quality education.

Teachers say their salaries are below the poverty line. Based on free-market exchange rates, teachers now earn less than a $100 a month. As the Iranian currency, the rial, has lost most of its value, prices for basic necessities have also skyrocketed amid double-digit inflation, meaning a single-income teacher can hardly afford food.

The Coordinating Council of Teachers Syndicates in Iran and other teachers’ unions have also called for a halt to what they say is the privatization of public education through the introduction of tuition fees, saying such fees are in violation of Iran’s constitution, which requires the government to “provide all citizens with free education up to secondary school, and must expand free higher education to the extent required by the country for attaining self-sufficiency.”

Students at universities have rallied in support of the teachers and workers across the country.

A support assembly at Amir Kabir University in Tehran was violently disrupted after so-called Basij students stormed the gathering.

The Basij is a volunteer paramilitary militia established in Iran in 1979 by order of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Now a force under the command of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the Basij has a guaranteed share for its members at Iranian universities.