Feb 26, 2019

Workers of Iran victim of EU-Tehran collusion

The Following Article was published by Ahwazi human rights activist Shima Silavi.


In early November this year, workers of the Haft-Tappeh sugar cane mill in the southwestern city of Shush, in the Alahwaz region, also known as the “Khuzestan” province, protested for weeks. These workers went on strikes and organized demonstrations in front of the local governor’s office, demanding wages for the unpaid workforce and protesting against the corrupt practices of private owners. Furthermore, they demanded the end of private sector ownership and asked for a management of the factory under supervision of the newly founded independent labor syndicate named the “Workers’ Council”.  

Only a few days later, workers of the Iran National Steel Industrial Group (INSIG) in Ahwaz (only an hour away from Haft-Tappeh) went on strikes and engaged in public protests which lasted 40 days with very similar demands. Workers of both companies, Haft-Tappeh sugar and Ahwaz steel, have been protesting for the past couple of years. One of the main triggers of the Haft-Tappeh strikes was the announcement that a young man, Omid Asadbeigi, had bought all shares of the company. It was also reported that the financial means that Asadbeigi received in the form of Jahangiri Dollars enabled this him to buy up the company.

A new currency in Iran: The “Jahangiri Dollar”

In mid-2018, the Iranian market witnessed a drastic fall of the value of the Iranian Toman. In order to control the public frenzy Ishaq Jahangiri, during this period, the Iranian vice president set the dollar exchange rate to 4,200 per US-dollar. In the exchange market in Tehran, however, the actual value of dollar reached up to 12,000 Toman per US-dollar.

To distinguish the real exchange rate from the rate that Jahangiri announced, people used the term “Jahangri dollar” which was in fact nowhere to be found in the market. Only those people closely affiliated with members of the government had the access to this exchange rate. Omid Asadbeigi, the new owner of Haft- tappeh, was among those with access to this “Jahangiri Dollar”.

Torture and forced televised confessions of Esmail Bakhsi, a worker’s spokesperson

As the workers protests in both Haft-tappeh and Ahwaz steel co. gained momentum, both Esmail Bakshi, the Haft-Tappeh workers’ spokesperson and Karim Sayahi Ahwaz, the steel workers’ spokesperson, were arrested. Following his release, however, Bakhshi announced on his Instagram account that he had been brutally tortured in prison, fed with hallucinogens and was electrocuted in the testicles. In the Instagram post Mahmoud Alavi, the minister of intelligence, was invited to a television debate to answer questions about the legitimacy of torture with regard to Islamic teachings and human rights standards.

On January 19th, channel 3 of Iranian national TV broadcasted the forced confessions of Esmail Bakhshi and Sepideh Gholiyan, a journalist and another workers’ rights activist. The following day, anonymous gunmen raided the house of Bakhshi for the second time. He is currently detained along with Gholiyan. According to his lawyer, his health is deteriorating. He is charged with threatening national security among many other charges.

IRIB on EU human rights blacklist

Ezzatollah Zarghami, the head of Iran’s state broadcasting network (IRIB) has been in the European Union’s list of human rights violators. The report marks IRIB’s role in the broadcasting of “forced confessions and show trials”.

The forced televised confessions are taken systematically and there are goals that the Iranian governments is trying to achieve by doing this. First, they aim to discredit and humiliate the detainees publicly, especially in the case of Esmail Bakhshi who had received mass support and solidarity from the public and international community.

Secondly, they aim at creating distrust among the opposition and also destroying the solidarity among activists within Iran. Amongst other things, the accusations of Bakhshi will further benefit the fear campaign entertained by the Iranian government.

Regarding Esmail Bakhshi’s many speeches, his criticism of the practices of private owners and Rouhani’s lack of action towards the workers’ plight confirms how bravely the former continued his path of speaking up and seeking for justice. It must be noted that until Bakhshi’s public confessions, mentioning torture after release from prison was a taboo.

In addition, Bakhshi already knew, upon his release from prison that it was only matter of time before the footages of his forced confessions would be released. And prior to the release of the footages, he publicly announced through Instagram that he had been tortured and that his confessions against himself had been obtained under torture. His Instagram has been deactivated since.

What is EU’s stand ?

The other issue that did not receive much attention, was the unanimous reaction of both so called reformists and hardliners to worker’s protests. Western media and especially European politicians still make distinctions between two fractions in the heart of Iranian politics, while one of the main slogans during January 2018 protest was “ reformists, hardliners the game is over”. Through these calls, the Iranian street officially announced the bankruptcy of both fractions. And Bakhshi’s arrest and torture confessions generated a wave of criticism for the reformists who voted for Rouhani for a second term.

Iran’s current political stance is strongly being aided by the European Union’s continuous effort to normalize relations with the theocracy, whose attitude can be described in any words other than “normal”. And perceives any voice, even the voice of hungry worker’s as a conspiracy plot against the entirety of Islamic theocracy of  Iran. At a period when EU’s security is jeopardised by repeated assassination attempts by Iranian secret service against its opposition , and Amnesty International called 2018, the “year of shame“ for Iran, EU-Tehran relations raises serious criticism. And the torture and plight of workers in Iran remains an issue that Europe does not find a “deal breaker” as their support of Tehran continues.