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Iran Labor Union, HRW Condemn State TV Showing Forced Confessions

Esmail Bakhshi, a representative on Haft Tapeh Factory workers (R), and civil activist Sepideh Qolian, undated.
Esmail Bakhshi, a representative on Haft Tapeh Factory workers (R), and civil activist Sepideh Qolian, undated.

Iranian state-TV has aired a “documentary,” aiming to discredit the labor rights movement in which activists say they were forced to confess to being part of an international Marxist cabal.

Aired on prime time Iranian national TV January 19, the program attempted to connect the recent strikes and protest rallies at the Haft Tapeh Sugarcane plant in southwest Iran to an Iranian exile Marxist party, as well as to the United States and Israel.

The Haft Tapeh trade union has issued a statement calling the program “a desperate attempt to suppress the righteous voice of the workers, toilers, and oppressed.”

Strikes and protests have become a regular feature at the plant. Workers say they are owed months of back wages and are demanding answers about the future of the industrial complex, which was once a source of national pride but has been struggling financially since it was privatized in 2015.

The state TV program included filmed confessions from prominent Iranian labor rights activists Ali Nejati and Esmail Bakhshi, as well as from journalist and activist Sepideh Qolyan. Bakhshi and Qolyan had said their confessions were coerced before the program aired.

The Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company (SWTSBC), which was also implicated in the film, has called the program an “amateurish collage” of footage blended with baseless claims of collusion between the SWTSBC and the Haft Tapeh trade union to topple the Islamic Republic regime.

Bakhshi and Qolyan were detained during a protest rally in Shush in November and released a few weeks later. Immediately after their release, they disclosed that they were tortured and brutally battered while in custody.

Judicial authorities refute the activists’ claims. Bakhshi and Qolyan continued to insist their confessions were violently coerced and were again arrested after the program aired.

“Iran’s security agencies are using smear campaigns, torture, and forced confessions against activists like Esmail Bakhshi and Sepideh Qolyan, who have the temerity to defend workers’ rights,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a statement published January 24.“Broadcasting activists’ ‘confessions’ on State TV only raises more concerns about torture and mistreatment in detention.”

Qolyan’s father, Khodarahm Qolyan, told Radio Farda January 21 that authorities did not show a warrant when they arrested his daughter after the program aired. He said when his son Mehdi Qolyan tried to prevent the agents from entering the home, they beat and arrested him. They told his daughter they would “destroy” her if she spoke out again about her treatment in custody, Qolyan added.

“Iranian authorities’ announcements that they actually investigate torture claims are still rarely true, and the arrest of Bakhshi and Qolyan looks like a response after they bravely spoke out about Iran’s bankrupt ‘justice’ system,” Page said.

Iran’s government-run Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) has a long history of parading government critics and their family members on national TV, where they are forced to make so-called “confessions” or public statements meant to discredit them and their causes.

Human rights groups have documented several instances in which dissidents, activists, and journalists were featured in pseudo-documentary videos intended to “prove” their “guilt,” though it was very likely they were coerced to participate in them, HRW noted.