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Protesting Workers Battered By Security Forces In Iran

Security forces confront protesting workers at HEPCO industrial complex in Arak, Iran. September 16, 2019

In a severe attack on a labor protest gathering, special security units injured nearly twenty workers and detained forty more at HEPCO Industrial Complex in the city of Arak, 281 kilometers (174 miles) west of the capital city, Tehran.

The local deputy director of the Cooperatives, Labor, and Social Welfare department, Mohammad Taqi Abayee, said on Monday, September 16, "The enraged workers closed down the country's main north-south railway line for hours," adding, "The security forces rushed in at 19:00 (local time), and within a minute removed the barricades."

HEPCO, a lucrative industrial complex founded before the Islamic Revolution, was privatized in 2017. Labor rights activists say that immediately following the privatization problems emerged for workers. The new owners started to delay wages and mismanage the complex.

Photos posted on social media showing injured HEPCO workers.

Privatization in the Islamic republic often does not mean selling government-owned businesses in a transparent fashion to legitimate private investors. Instead, many enterprises have been sold below market value to insiders, with loans from government-owned banks.

The new owners often use the companies they acquire to receive more loans or engage in unrelated import businesses, using the reputable businesses to acquire cheaper dollars from the government, which usually established companies can receive.

HEPCO employees have a long history of holding protest rallies. On Saturday, September 7, they gathered outside the complex's main office building, holding signs and demanding the status of their company stocks/shares be clarified with officials, Iran Human Rights Monitor, IHRM, reported on September 16.

"We, HEPCO workers, are shouting loud and clear that we demand the clarification of our share-holding status and ownership of the HEPCO Company after five years of being left in limbo. We're not looking for just a new company manager," the sign read.

According to Article 27 of the Islamic Republic's Constitution, "Public gatherings and marches may be freely held, provided weapons are not carried and a gathering is not detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam."

Nonetheless, peaceful labor activism in Iran is treated as a national security offense and retaliated with an iron fist.

Workers are regularly threatened, detained, tortured, and even sentenced to flogging for participating in peaceful protests demanding their legitimate rights, human rights organizations maintain.

The workers have repeatedly called upon the government to return HEPCO's ownership to the public sector. Workers at many other privatized factories across the country have also joined their peers in Arak, insisting that their work conditions have worsened after the privatization of their companies.

Employees at Iran's large industrial complexes often complain that wages are paid late, pensioners' rights are neglected, and that thousands of workers have been fired.

According to Iran's Free Trade Union, "8,000 workers used to work at the Hepco industrial complex before its privatization. Now, only 1,000 of them are left."

Nevertheless, President Hassan Rouhani's administration has stood firm on its privatization policy.