Relatives of labor activists currently held incommunicado by Iran’s authorities, report they have been warned to keep quiet about their loved ones’ imprisonment.
Family members of Esmail Bakhashi and Ms. Sepideh Qolyan say they received phone calls from the Intelligence Department of the city of Shush in Iran’s oil-rich Khuzestan Province warning them to keep quiet “or else.”
Bakhshi is the spokesman for the independent trade union of the Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane industrial complex, which has seen repeated strikes and protests in recent months, with workers demanding back pay and better conditions. Qolyan is a labor rights activist and journalist. Both were first arrested November 18 during protests at the complex along with more than a dozen other activists and workers.
Bakhshi and Qolyan were released December 12 after eighty international labor organizations signed a letter addressed to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei calling for the release of all peacefully protesting workers.
After alleging abusive treatment while in detention, the two were arrested again January 20 and their families have not heard from them since.
"I was beaten up and tortured almost to death for no reason," Bakhshi said before he was re-arrested. "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.”
Qolyan said she was also beaten and showered with sexualized insults while in custody.
Both activists demanded Intelligence Minister and mid-ranking cleric Mahmoud Alavi answer for their mistreatment while in jail. They were arrested again shortly after.
Meanwhile, Bakhshi’s trade union has announced they believe authorities are preparing a defamation video containing a forced confession from Bakhshi.
The activists’ relatives had assembled outside the Shush Justice Department offices February 20 to call for their immediate and unconditional release.
The same day, Bakhshi’s relatives went to the Shush courthouse seeking information about the case against him, where they say they were set upon court agents who physically and verbally assaulted them. Bakhshi’s union says his mother fainted after being placed under arrest and was taken to the hospital.
In a related story, relatives of the detained secretary of the board of directors of the Free Trade Union of Iranian Workers, Jafar Azimzadeh, also reported threatening phone calls.
"Unknown individuals called on Azimzadeh's father-in-law ordering him to stop his daughter from digging into her husband's case," the union reported.
Azimzadeh was arrested January 29, and hours later, the vice president of the union, Parvin Mohammadi, was also arrested.
Security forces confiscated the personal belongings of Azimzadeh and Ms. Mohammadi, including their laptops and cell phones, during two separate raids, according to reports.
According to Azimzadeh's legal counsel, Mohammad Ali Jedari Foroughi, the labor rights activist had earlier been sentenced to eleven years for the same charges by another branch of the Revolutionary Court in the city of Saveh, southwest of Tehran, but was later acquitted.
"Based on the illegality of issuing two different verdicts for the same charges, we are appealing against the latest ruling,” Foroughi told Radio Farda.
Azimzadeh is currently serving a six-year term behind bars in Tehran's infamous Evin Prison.
Union members and labor rights activists say the authorities are trying to silence discussion of the detentions by creating an atmosphere of intimidation and fear.