Reza Shahabi and Pegah Ahangarani (photo Deutsche Welle)
Iran remains a country without rights
Despite the optimism in the west surrounding the election of reformist Iranian President Hassan Rouhani earlier this year, little has changed on the ground for working people in Iran, and the leaders of independent trade unionists remain in jail, along with many others fighting for truth and justice, like journalists and high-profile actress Pegah Ahangarani. Whatever diplomatic progress is being made regarding Iran’s nuclear ambitions – suggesting that his motivation is not to improve the lives of ordinary Iranians, but to free the elite from the effect of western sanctions.
This weekend, the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) protested to President Rouhani about the continued detention of bus workers’ leader Reza Shahabi, the treasurer of ITF affiliate the Vahed Syndicate. UK campaign group CODIR has also protested, building on the call Amnesty International made with trade unions in August when Rouhani was inaugurated.
Reza was briefly freed for medical reasons earlier this year, but was almost certainly returned to jail too early, and is now suffering further health problems: an MRI scan has shown that three lower vertebrates have been damaged and are in need of immediate surgery in a hospital. Reza has been suffering from lower back pain for months, his left foot becoming almost paralyzed as a result, with very little mobility left in it. Due to the numbness of his foot and his severe back pain, he was transferred to the Imam Khomeini Hospital on 19 October. After all examinations, physicians have once again recommended that Reza is in no condition to be returned to a prison environment, and is in need of hydrotherapy and physiotherapy in a stress free environment outside of prison. They have also warned that unless such treatments are provided there is a very high possibility that his entire left side could be paralyzed.
Another attack on freedom of speech, condemned by BECTU, was the sentencing this week of 24 year old actress, Pegah Ahangarani, to 18 months in jail for the alleged crime of “action against national security and links to foreign media”. CODIR reports that Ahangarani has been detained twice since the protests in 2009 over the disputed re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, although she was released without charges. Following the recent election victory of Hassan Rouhani, who was elected on an allegedly reformist platform, Ms Ahangarani asked him at a public meeting to appoint a culture minister who would be able to deliver promises on “freedom of thought and expression.” The 2012 TUC Congress carried a resolution from the Musicians’ Union about the restrictions on freedom of expression being faced by artists around the world, following the union’s earlier defence of Iranian actress Marzieh Vafamehr.
At the start of last week, the NUJ and International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) held a briefing for MPs about the restrictions on media freedom in Iran, highlighting the continued imprisonment of 20 journalists, many since the 2009 protests. Jim Boumelha, NUJ member and IFJ president said:
“We are reinvigorating our campaign since the election of Hussain Rouhani. We have reacted forcefully to every one of his public declarations, especially the comment that ‘guilds and associations are the best ways to run social affairs of the society.’ We are making the re-opening of the Association [of Iranian Journalists] headquarters our priority and will continue to press for the release of journalists in jail.”