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Outcry Leads To 'Review' Of Harsh Sentences Against Iran Labor Activists

FILE - Mohammad Shariatmadari - Minister of Cooperatives, Labor and Social Welfare.

Iran's Minister of Cooperatives, Labor and Social Welfare has praised as "timely" the decision of the country's chief judge to look into unusually harsh sentences announced last week against several labor activists.

Ebrahim Raeesi the head of Iran’s conservative Judiciary has personally stepped in and ordered a review of jail terms as high as 20 years for labor and union activists.

Raeesi has assigned the head of Tehran Justice Department to supervise the review and report to him as quickly, as possible.

In a letter to Raeesi, the Minister of Cooperatives Mohammad Shariatmadari, says "the verdicts against some of the Haft Tapeh workers were shocking", to the extent that President Hassan Rouhani's administration decided to form a committee composed of the ministers of Justice and labor, along with the president's legal advisor, to look into court cases and procedures.

The presidential administration has little influence over Iran’s Judiciary, which is under the control of the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

The individuals who received the harsh prison sentences were involved in labor strikes and protests in 2018 at a major sugar-processing complex at Haft Tapeh, in the southwestern oil-rich province of Khuzestan.

Meanwhile, Shariatmadari has insisted that the case labor protests and activists should be addressed with a friendly and benevolent approach.

Article 27 of the Islamic Republic's Constitution stipulates, "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."

"Protesting work conditions is the absolute right of the labor force," Shariatmadari affirms.

However, the Iranian government does not recognize labor unions established by workers and has been regularly cracked down on protest gatherings arranged by "illegal" unions. Instead, the government has set up a "Workers' House" that supports the government's position against workers and has not been observed defending workers rights, although it has always been represented at parliament during past decades.