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Iran's Establishment Resists Calls To Look Into Torture Claims

Esmail Bakhshi, a representative on Haft Tapeh sugar mill workers (R), and civil activist Sepideh Qolian, undated. File photo

A heated debate is taking place over the torture of a prominent labor activist in Iran.

Esmail Bakhshi was arrested on November 20, 2018, along with journalist and civil rights activist Sepideh Qolian during demonstrations by workers demanding unpaid wages.

Bakhshi was released on December 12 after 80 international labor organizations signed a letter addressed to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei calling for all protesting workers and teachers who had been arrested in Iran for peacefully demanding their rights to be released.

On January 4, in a letter posted on his Instagram account, Bakhshi disclosed that he had been tortured and severely battered while in custody.
In the same letter, Bakhsi who is a labor leader at Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane complex workers in Shush, in the oil-rich province of Khuzestan, southwest Iran, challenged the intelligence minister calling him to a TV debate on agents' behavior.

"I was beaten up and tortured to death for no reason," Bakhshi said. "I was so badly battered that I could not move for 72 hours in my solitary confinement cell. The pain was so unbearable that it made sleeping impossible,” Bakhshi wrote on his Instagram account.

"Weeks after my release, I still feel intolerable pain in my broken ribs, left ear, and testicles," he added.

The labor activist also said he and Qolian were bombarded with abusive sexual language.

"The torturers, who presented themselves as the unknown soldiers of [the Shi'ite] Hidden Imam (the title exclusively used for the agents and moles hired by the Intelligence Ministry), used to shower us with vituperative sexual terms while beating us up."

Qolian has tweeted to confirm Bakhsi’s torture story.

Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, said the Justice Department would look into Bakhshi's allegations if he files a complaint.
But since then there has been no progress in the investigation and it seems officials are backtracking.

At the beginning of the week, when Bakhshi's allegations were reflected worldwide, the head of the judiciary also stepped in.
Addressing the judiciary's top officials on January 7, Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani said a delegation would be sent to the city of Shush to thoroughly investigate recent developments.

Furthermore, Bakhshi's lawyer, Farzaneh Zilabi, disclosed that her client has faced heavy pressure to retract his statement.

Meanwhile, President Hassan Rouhani preferred to stay away from the controversial allegations. But, his adviser, Hossamuddin Ashena, reported on his Telegram Channel that Rouhani has issued an "explicit order" for an investigation into Bakhshi's claims.

Nonetheless, Ashena did not say who or which department had been assigned to carry the order.

Alavi, who has not yet responded to Bakhshi's call for a live TV debate, was forced to attend a session in camera, hosted by the parliament’s influential Commission for National Security and Foreign Policy, to respond to the allegations.

Although no details of the session have been published so far, the chairman of the commission, Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, cited the officials of the Intelligence Ministry as saying, "There had been a 'series of clashes' between Bakhshi and his detainers 'on the way' to the prison. Nevertheless, he has not been tortured while in custody."

Falahatpisheh also disclosed that Bakhshi's videotaped confession was shown at the commission's closed-doors session.

"In part of his confession, Bakhshi admitted he was connected to Worker-Communist Party of Iran, and the policy of the party is spreading protest rallies," Falahatpisheh maintained.

Falahatpisheh's comments were later dismissed as baseless by the head of the executive committee of the party, Asghar Karimi, in an interview with Radio Farda.

It seems the initial tide in favor of conducting a fair investigation has been reversed by the establishment.

While the debate continues, President Hassan Rouhani's chief of staff, Mahmoud Vaezi, has implicitly threatened vociferous labor rights activists with punishment, saying, "The Intelligence Ministry has the right to file a lawsuit against Bakhshi for his unfounded allegations.”