Iranian labor activist pressured to withdraw his torture charges

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The Intelligence Department has been pressuring a labor activist to withdraw his torture charges, his lawyer said.

Various sources, including the lawyer of the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane workers’ representative, have confirmed that Bakhshi and his family are under pressure.

“After the torture was brought up, pressure against Esmail Bakhshi intensified and there is evidence that suggests that my client is under pressure and that there is a psychological environment against him to deny the torture,” his lawyer Farzaneh Zilani said today in an interview with an Iranian website.

A Telegram channel that belongs to the workers of the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane factory in southern Iran also confirmed the pressure on the Iranian labor activist to deny the torture.

“After Esmail Bakhshi published a letter detailing the torture he was subjected to in which he cited that Ms. Qelian was also beaten, from a few days ago, Esmail Bakhshi and his family are under constant and severe pressure by security forces to deny the letter,” the workers wrote.

Iranian activist Esmail Bakhshi has been out of jail for a month, but says he still bears the physical and psychological scars from being tortured “to the verge of death” during his 25-day jail stay in Khuzestan Province.

In a letter Bakhshi posted on Instagram, he described his torture and resulting injuries. “During the first few days, without reason or any conversation, they tortured me and beat me with their fists and kicked me until I was going to die. They beat me so much I couldn’t move in my cell for 72 hours. I was feeling so much pain that I couldn’t even sleep without suffering,” Bakhshi wrote in his open letter.

Balkhshi challenged Intelligence Minister Mahmud Alavi, a mid-ranking cleric, to a live TV debate concerning the alleged torture of detainees. “Mr. Alavi, I am still suffering from the terrible impact of the 25 days of unjust detention by the Intelligence Ministry…but those two basic questions are eating my brain and only you can answer them. I and the honorable people of Iran have the right to know the answers… Therefore I, Smaeil Bakhshi, challenge you, Mr. Alavi, to a live televised debate to hear your response,”

Bakhshi was arrested on November 20 for his role in weeks-long protests over unpaid salaries at a local sugar factory. He was charged with disruption of public order and collusion against national security and spent weeks in jail before his release on bail on December 12.

Public Outcry over the activist’s torture

The public revelation of Bakhshi’s physical abuse by security and judicial agents has led to a public outcry in Iran on social media, with hundreds of journalists and activists demanding an investigation and punishment of those responsible for the violations of both domestic and international laws.

In an act of protest, 34 student associations signed a letter addressed to the Minister of Intelligence, declaring their support for Ismael Bakhshi and his call on the Intelligence Minister to participate in a public debate on television. Esmail Bakhshi is a labor activist representing workers of Haft Tappeh who was imprisoned in November and tortured before being released to be detained at home.
The students wrote to the Intelligence Minister, Seyed Mahmoud Alavi, that they expect the regime to provide the opportunity for a worker to criticize the government and demand accountability as a citizen. The student associations also declared their readiness to host the debate.

‘Source Of Shame’

In a meeting with judicial officials on January 7, Iran’s Chief Justice addressed the labor activist’s accusations.

According to state-run news agencies, Amoli Larijani ordered that an “independent” team be sent to the region to “review the various dimensions of the issue and present the report to the people as soon as possible.”

“These kinds of issues are very important to us as there have never been such offences in the foundations of the Islamic Republic, the judiciary, security and intelligence agencies,” the cleric said.

“We consider this legally and religiously prohibited,” Larijani said.

Iran’s Chief Justice said that “one interrogator’s alleged misconduct should not be blamed on the whole system.”

Larijani also signaled that Iranians should not spread such rumors as it is “in unison with the enemy”.

Ali Motahari, an outspoken member of parliament, wrote a column in the state-run Etemad daily on January 6 in which he said Bakhshi’s claims were a “source of shame” and demanded answers from the Intelligence Ministry.

Gholamreza Shariati, the governor of Khuzestan, denied Bakhshi’s claims. “I checked with the relevant bodies and the claim of torture was strongly denied,” he told the Jamaran news website.

Mistreatment and Torture in Iran’s Detention Centers

International human rights groups have long alleged that torture is widespread during the interrogation of detainees in Iran, including rape and other sexual violence, electric shock, and amputations.

Before Smaeil Bakhshi there have been other workers who also suffered torture, such as Reza Shahabi, and Mahmoud Salehi, who lost his kidneys in the detention center of the Intelligence Ministry.

During the protests that roiled Iran in December 2017-January 2018, and have continued intermittently even if less intensely since then, there were numerous reports of beatings of detainees that were being held without charge and the suspicious deaths while in detention of several of them, none of which ever received an independent investigation.

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