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Trade Union Head Calls For Release Of Iranian Labor Prisoner

Reza Shahabi, imprisoned Iranian labor rights activist, undated
Reza Shahabi, imprisoned Iranian labor rights activist, undated

In an open letter to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) General Secretary Sharan Burrow has demanded the immediate and unconditional release of Reza Shahabi, an imprisoned Iranian labor rights activist.

A member of the board of directors of the Workers' Union of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company (UWTSBC), Shahabi has been on hunger strike for the past 13 days.

Burrow, while referring to what she has described as years of torture and inappropriate treatment of Shahabi behind bars, reiterated, “[Reza] the labor rights activist was on medical furlough but Tehran’s prosecutor-general refused to extend his parole.”

Burrow reminded Rouhani that “Shahabi was forced to return to Rajaei Shahr prison in [the] city of Karaj, where he found out that the duration of his medical furlough has been counted as illegal absence and unlicensed leave. Therefore, he was sentenced to stay behind bars for another 968 days.”

In a statement published on August 12, UWTSBC condemned Shahabi’s extended prison term.

“The prosecutor’s assertion that Shahabi must spend five more months to complete his six-year prison term is unfounded because after he returned to prison he saw a letter from the judiciary which stated that his sentence terminated on September 9, 2015,” said the statement.

Protesting these inhumane situation and injustice, Burrow asserts in her letter, “Shahabi joined a group of his inmates who were already on hunger strike.”

Furthermore, the ITUC general secretary said, “Keeping Reza Shahabi behind bars is against Iran’s international commitments, which prohibit detaining labor activists who are peacefully campaigning for workers’ rights”.

Meanwhile, according to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), Zanyar Moradi, Loqman Moradi, Sa’eid Shirzad, and Shaheen Zoqi Tabar are also on hunger strike at the same prison.

According to CHRI, the one-year sentence added to Shahabi’s current term stems from a conviction for his alleged part in the April 17, 2014, clash between guards and prisoners at Evin Prison that became known as Black Thursday.

“The verdict issued by the Revolutionary Court in the Black Thursday case was when special guard units attacked political prisoners in Ward 350,” Shahabi’s colleague told CHRI at the time.

“Shahabi was injured during that attack, but the prison officials and the guards who carried out the assault testified against him, and in the end he was sentenced to another year in prison,” added the source.

Earlier, on February 13, the ITUC had urged Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to free Shahabi.

“A return to detention of Reza Shahabi, unjustly convicted for his trade union activity, would be only a further violation of international conventions and a violation of human rights,” said the organization in a letter.

Khamenei has not yet reacted to the letter, which apparently led Burrow to address Rouhani.

However, in similar case in the past, such letters in Iran have been dismissed and stamped as “Return to sender.”