A provincial police chief has defended the storming of a peaceful labor protest by his anti-riot forces in the Iranian provincial capital city of Arak.
“The police forces are in no way against workers’ livelihood but, in some cases, they are dutybound to use their legal means to preserve law and order”, said Commander Kioumars Azizi.
According to media reports, as well as pictures and video clips published on social media, the anti-riot police forces attacked two industrial complexes, Hepco and Azarab, in Arak, on Tuesday, September 19 and arrested several protesters.
Dozens of workers were wounded and transferred to hospitals, Free Trade Union of Iranian Workers reported.
Later, on Thursday, the director of “Cooperation, Labor and Social Welfare” in the Central province of Arak, Mohammad Taqi Abaei confirmed that four workers were detained but freed hours later.
Based on a report by a local news website, Arak Emrooz (Arak Today), workers at Hepco blocked the city’s railway briefly, while their colleagues at industrial unit Azarab, blocked Tehran-Arak highway to highlight their plight.
Azarab and Hepco are two privatized industrial units where wages have not been paid for the past four to six months. Earlier, workers had also repeatedly held peaceful rallies to protest delayed wages.
Nearly two thousand workers are employed by the two privatized industrial units.
Referring to the latest protests, the Iran Labor News Agency, ILNA, cited the Azizi, as saying, “The police forces were reluctantly forced to use their legal means to control the situation”.
However, ILNA, quoting Rouhani’s government representative in the Central province, Mohammad Taqi Abaei, saying, “The reason that we are witnessing such clashes and restlessness is the fact that the entrepreneurs at Azarab and Hepco have not respected their commitments”.
According to some local reports on social media, police had assured that the workers can protest without any harassment, yet, all of a sudden, the anti-riot forces stormed their gathering, beating them with batons.
Some of the anti-riot forces, riding motorbikes, drove in to disperse the protesters, while firing tear gas and beating them with sticks, the reports say.
In one of the video clips published on social media, protesters are heard chanting slogans, shouting “Poor workers don’t deserve to be battered”.
“The police and anti-riot forces went on the attack and beat and arrested anyone they could and took them to the security police detention center [in Arak, 173 miles south of Tehran],” A labor activist who asked not to be identified for security reasons told the Center for Human Rights in Iran, CHRI. “We don’t know how many are in detention or what they have been charged with. But we think there are 20 to 30 in custody.”
However, the reports on police using violence to disperse the protesters have not been yet confirmed or denied by authorities. The state-funded ILNA reported on the protests but omitted the use of force by the police.
Meanwhile, an Iranian member of Canada’s Labor Congress and a consultant at the International Trade Union Confederation’s, Mehdi Kouhestaninejad told Radio Farda, “Apparently, we are witnessing a new wave of suppression by the regime against workers who dare to protest and raise their voices demanding their rights”.
Kouhestaninejad insists that the recent “widespread use of anti-riot police” against Hepco and Azarab workers was “unprecedented”.
Referring to the latest developments, Kouhestaninejad notes, “The struggle of workers for their rights has reached the point of no return. Despite all attacks, the workers are not going to give-in and retreat”.
“Workers protests all over Iran are spreading fast and it will mean new crisis confronting the government”, he added.
According to Article 27 of the Islamic Republic’s Constitution, “Public assemblies and marches may be freely held, provided arms are not carried and that they are not detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam.”
“The workers were unarmed and their gathering had nothing to do with Islam and yet it was the police who were armed and fired shots into the air,” a labor activist confided with CHRI. “I hope the judiciary will look into these unconstitutional actions by the police.”
Independent labor unions are banned in Iran, strikers are often fired and risk being detained, and labor leaders face long prison sentences on trumped up national security charges.