Prominent Iranian labor activist Esmail Bakhshi is in serious condition behind bars, workers from the Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane industrial complex have announced on their Telegram app channel.
Bakhshi has been reportedly suffering from health problems unrelated to his incarceration, but his coworkers say his second arrest in two months is making matters worse and authorities are possibly using detention as a means of putting pressure on him.
He was initially arrested in November 2018 after weeks of strikes and protests at the sugar mill, where he was the spokesman of the workers. After more than three weeks in detention he was released in December.
However, in a letter posted on Instagram on January 4, Bakhshi, alleged that he was tortured and beaten by Intelligence Ministry interrogators while in custody in November 2018.
The minister denied the allegations but never responded to the challenge.
Bakhshi was later re-arrested for insisting on his claims.
“During the first few days, without reason or any conversation, they tortured me and beat me with their fists and kicked me until I was going to die. They beat me so hard that I couldn’t move in my cell for 72 hours. I was feeling so much pain that I couldn’t even sleep without suffering,” Bakhshi wrote about his detention experience last year.
On January 6, judiciary spokesman Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejei said the authorities would investigate if Bakhshi lodged a formal complaint.
However, Farzaneh Zilabi, Bakhshi’s attorney, expressed concern about the growing pressure on her client.
“After mentioning torture, Esmail Bakhshi has come under intense pressure aimed at forcing my client to deny what happened,” Zilabi said on January 7.
But on December 11, when initial reports surfaced about Bakhshi being tortured, she demanded he be transferred from the Intelligence Ministry detention center in Ahvaz to the medical examiner’s office, the New York-based Center For Human Rights In Iran (CHRI) reported on January 10.
In their latest post on Telegram, workers say they plan to hold a protest calling for the immediate release of Bakhshi along with journalist and civil rights activist Sepideh Qolyan, who was re-arrested at the same time.
Other reports coming from labor sources in Iran say, that the two detainees have been allowed family visits only once and they did not appear to be in good shape.
Qolyan, who was detained during a protest of Haft Tapeh workers demanding overdue wages and bonuses, said that she had witnessed Bakhshi being tortured.
Iranian state-TV has aired a program aiming to discredit the labor rights movement in which activists say they were forced to confess to being part of an international Marxist cabal.
Iran’s monopolized state-run TV aired a program on January 19 that tried to connect the recent strikes and protest rallies at the Haft Tapeh Sugarcane plant in the city of Shush, in the oil-rich province of Khuzestan, southwest Iran, to an Iranian exile Marxist party, the United States, and Israel.
Retaliating, the Haft Tapeh trade union issued a statement calling the program “a desperate attempt to suppress the righteous voice of the workers, toilers, and oppressed.”
More than 800 political and civil rights activists, along with numerous independent Iranian trade unions, as well as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and CHRI have called for the unconditional and immediate release of the two.
Dozens of Iranians in Amsterdam and in other Western cities held have held rallies in support of activists detained in Iran, and calling for Bakhshi and Qolyan’s immediate release.
Earlier, on January 29, security forces had stormed the residences of two prominent labor rights activists, Parvin Mohammadi and Jafar Azimzadeh, and arrested them.
Azimzadeh, the secretary of the board of directors of the Free Union of Iranian Workers, has been sentenced to six years, his legal counsel, Mohammad Ali Jedari Foroughi, told Radio Farda.
"The new verdict was issued while Azimzadeh had been acquitted for the same charges in another court," Jedari Foroughi noted, adding that he will appeal against the illegal ruling based on the principle of double jeopardy.