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Iran's Judiciary Pushed To Act On Labor Activist's Torture Case

Iranian labor leader and activist Esmail Bakhshi who was arrested in November says he was badly tortured. His complaint has put Iran's hardliners on the defensive. File photo.

A day after the Iranian Parliament announced it would investigate claims of torture by a labor activist following strikes at the Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane industrial complex, judiciary head Sadeq Amoli Larijani said he has called for an independent body to look into the allegations.

Addressing the judiciary's top officials on January 7, Amoli Larijani said the committee would be sent to the city of Shush, located in the oil-rich province of Khuzestan and home to the industrial complex.

Responding to allegations by Esmail Bakhshi, the spokesman for the sugar cane plant’s workers’ union, Amoli Larijani said such matters are “utterly important” because torturing detainees is against both the law and Shari'a.
Amoli Larijani insisted that torture has never been condoned in Iran since the establishment of the Islamic Republic.

Numerous reports by international human rights organizations and the U.N. special rapporteurs have documented torture and abuse of prisoners in Iran.

Without naming Bakhshi, who claims to have been brutally tortured behind bars, Amoli Larijani said, "A worker might have violated the law, but treating him unlawfully is unacceptable."

A day earlier, the state-run Iran Students News Agency (ISNA) reported that the parliament plans to look into the claims.

A member of the parliament’s presiding board, Alireza Rahimi, told ISNA that Bakhshi's request for an investigation had been accepted by speaker Ali Larijani (the brother of Amoli Larijani).

Four days ago, Bakhshi challenged Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi to a live television debate on conditions at prisons and detention centers across Iran. Alavi has not yet responded to Bakhshi's challenge.

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.

According to labor activists, Bakhshi was reportedly beaten and tortured while in prison.

"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 that 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."

The allegations triggered widespread criticism of the Iranian ruling establishment to the extent that Bakhshi's case was discussed at a session of parliament’s influential Commission for National Security and Foreign Policy.

Chairman Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh said the events at the Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane plant were scheduled to be discussed with related authorities on January 8.

Furthermore, the outspoken representative of Tehran to the parliament and deputy speaker, Ali Motahari, asked the intelligence minister to give a convincing response to Bakhshi's complaint.

"If what Bakhshi is saying is true, it means there are still elements within the ministry that believe they can use any means against inmates. This is a shameful record for an administration that took office with the slogan of hope, freedom, and defending human rights," he said.

Iranian law enforcement and judicial authorities often do not release accurate information about detainees, especially in civil rights and political cases. There are few mechanisms to hold these authorities accountable in Iran.

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