Iranian President Hasan Rouhani. Photo: World Economic Forum / swiss-image.ch / RÈmy Steinegger
Iran: May arrests show regime’s true colours
Yesterday I wrote about the union-backed Amnesty International campaign to free Reza Shahabi, who has been in jail since 2010. But lest you think this repression of free trade unionism is a thing of the past in Iran under its new diplomat-friendly ‘moderate’ President Rouhani, arrests of trade unionists continue unabated.
On 1 May, the semi-official Fars news agency announced that President Rouhani had given a speech saying:
“Workers should be able to get their messages across to officials by forming their own free associations. The government should not interfere in these unions and associations.”
It seems he didn’t mean it. The traditional May Day demonstrations in Tehran were, as is also sadly now traditional, prohibited by the regime (indeed, it’s been suggested that workers were told to go listen to Rouhani’s speech, instead, telling them they were free!) Prominent worker activists were visited by the security services in the days leading up to the global workers’ day, and arrests followed where people nevertheless protested, including Ebrahim Madadi, the Tehran bus workers’ leader who was arrested over Christmas in 2008 and eventually released after global union protests in 2012. Reports suggested at least 23 were held in undisclosed locations.
Further arrests followed the next day, 2 May, when workers used the weekend to hold private May Day celebrations. Maziar Gilaninejad, a leading member of the Metalworkers and Mechanics union was beaten, along with a large number of union members, at a social gathering in an orchard in the suburbs of Karaj in West Tehran before being arrested and transferred to an unknown detention centre. The event was to privately celebrate May Day, with workers and their families present.
The Committee for the Defence of Iranian People’s Rights (CODIR) say that:
“the situation of Maziar Gilaninejad, an effective and high profile trade union organiser, is very worrying. One of Gilaninejad’s key achievements is the editing of the Message of Syndicates, a trade union publication with support from five trade unions, a significant breakthrough inside Iran.”
Since then, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) report that later in May, more journalists were arrested, bringing the total number of Iranian journalists in jail to 23:
- Serajoddin Mirdamadi, who had been living in Paris, visited Iran in September 2013, but had his passport confiscated at the airport and was prohibited from travelling. He was arrested on 11 May.
- Saba Azar Pay, a woman journalist, was arrested at the offices of her magazine, Tajarete Farda, on 26 May.
Ali Mazrooie, chair of the IFJ’s affiliate in Iran, the Association of Iranian Journalists, said:
“We hoped that there would be a change in the situation of journalists and press freedom in Iran after the elections last summer and the establishment of a new government. Unfortunately the judicial system in Iran is still against press freedom and opposes the opening of our offices. We appeal to authorities to respect press freedom, free all detained and imprisoned journalists and reopen our offices so we can do our job and support the rights of our colleagues.”
It seems nothing much has changed for the workers and trade union activists of Iran, whatever the President claims.