ITUC OnLine – April 18, 2007

Brussels, 18 April 2007 (ITUC OnLine): The ITUC has issued a strong condemnation of the Iranian authorities for their intensified attacks on independent trade unions in the country, with the arrests of hundreds of leaders and members of teachers’ organisations and further persecution of bakery workers’ leader Mahmoud Salehi from the city of Saqez in Iran Kurdistan. The crackdown is believed to be closely linked to attempts by the government to stop Iranian workers participating in upcoming May Day activities. The ITUC is submitting complaints to the International Labour Organisation on both cases, documenting violations of fundamental workers’ rights.

The intensified repression of the teachers’ organisations began on 7 March, when protests around the country took place against the failure by the Parliament to pass a much-anticipated Pay Parity Bill which would have improved the dire economic situation of the country’s education workforce. Security and Intelligence Ministry agents raided the homes of over 20 union leaders in a coordinated action around midnight on 7 March, detaining several of them and removing them to secret locations.

While some were released the following day, many were re-arrested. At a conciliation meeting set for 13 March, the Education Minister failed to appear as planned – instead, Intelligence Ministry and armed forces agents turned up and threatened and intimidated the teacher representatives, three of whom had been unable to attend the meeting due to their arrest and detention the night before.

On 14 March, some 300 teachers were arrested at a demonstration outside the Parliament to protest at the previous day’s events. 50 of these were taken to the notorious Evin Prison, and 14 of them were kept in jail for two weeks despite a ruling from the head of Iran’s judiciary that they had simply been exercising their legitimate rights and ordering their immediate release. The government also ordered all schools in Tehran to close early before Norouz, the most important holiday in Iran’s calendar.

The renewed attacks on the “Saquez Seven” bakery workers’ leaders focused on Mahmoud Salehi, who has already spent more than 5 years in prison since the mid 1980’s due to his union activities, having been detained in 1986, 1995, 1999, 2000 and 2001. On May Day 2004, Salehi along with six others were arrested and charged with organising trade union activities, including the holding of a rally on May Day of that year. The arrests took place just two days after they met with a visiting delegation of the ICFTU, and the prosecutor in court referred repeatedly to their contacts with the international trade union group.

Sentenced to five years’ jail and three year’s internal exile in 2005, Salehi and others sentenced with him successfully appealed against the verdicts. Then in 2006 further charges were brought in the Saqez Revolutionary Court against him and his colleagues. The next appeal, by Salehi and two others on March 11 this year became the subject of judicial farce, with the last-minute replacement of the Presiding Judge with the prosecutor who had led the original case against them. No official verdict was issued from this appeal, however on 9 April Salehi was again detained by security forces and is now being held in prison in the heavily militarised city of Sanandaj. A demonstration on 16 April against the repression of the Saqez Seven met with violent repression by the authorities, with several participants injured as a result of attacks with batons and gas sprays.

“These latest attacks by the Iranian authorities are of the deepest concern”, said ITUC General Secretary Guy Ryder. “Any government which conducts a campaign of judicial subjugation and violent repression against workers who are simply trying to get decent treatment and a living wage should be utterly condemned for betraying the interests of its own people”.

Letter to the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran

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