(Beirut) – Iranian authorities are holding at least eight activists and journalists arrested during a Labor Day protest on May 1, 2019, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities should immediately and unconditionally release all those detained for exercising their rights to peaceful assembly.
Radio Farda, the United States-funded news agency, reported on May 1 that the authorities had arrested more than 35 people in a demonstration in front of Iran’s parliament that was organized by 20 independent local labor rights organizations. While the authorities released several of those detained, including Reza Shahabi, a prominent labor activist, security forces continue to detain others in Evin prison. They include the activists Neda Naji, Atefeh Rangriz, Nahid Khodajoo, Nasrin Javadi, and Farhad Sheikhi,Hassan Saeedi, and two journalists arrested at the protest, Marizeh Amiri and Keyvan Samimi.
“Instead of commemorating May Day by allowing labor activists to peacefully raise their demands to parliament, Iranian authorities arrested them and put them in jail,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “While Iranian authorities regularly highlight the potentially negative impact of US sanctions on Iranian civilians, they brook almost zero domestic criticism of their own economic policies by labor activists.”
Iran’s labor law does not recognize the right to create labor unions independent of government-sanctioned groups such as the Islamic Labor Council. Since 2005, authorities have repeatedly harassed, summoned, arrested, convicted, and sentenced workers affiliated with independent trade unions.
On May 14, one of the protesters arrested during the demonstration on May 1 told Human Rights Watch that security forces attacked the protesters 10 minutes after they gathered in front of the parliament and arrested about 50 men and women while beating some of them. Authorities subsequently transferred all the detainees to Arg seventh base police station. Judicial authorities charged all the detainees with “disrupting public order” and “participating in an illegal demonstration,” while bringing the additional charge of “acting against national security” against some of the detainees, the source added. The authorities issued a temporary detention order for Amiri, Rangriz, and Naji, while announcing a 5,000,000,000 Rial (US$33,000) bond for Khodajoo, a source who preferred to remain anonymous told Human Rights Watch on May 13. Authorities also issued a 1,000,000,000 Rial ($6,600) bond for Javadi but have refused to release her after the family has provided the bond. Naji and Rangriz have not been allowed to make phone calls to their families, the source said.
On May 12, the authorities took Samimi, the chief editor of Iran Farda monthly magazine, to the magazine’s office, where they searched documents and seized computer hard drives and laptops, Taghi Rahmani, a well-known activist, tweeted. Authorities have arrested Samimi, a veteran journalist, several times both before and after the Iranian revolution. He spent six years in prison in the aftermath of the controversial 2009 presidential elections in Iran.
Over the past year, Iran has arrested several labor activists. In January 20, authorities arrested Ismael Bakhshi and Sepideh Gholian, two activists who had alleged that authorities had tortured them during their detention in November 2018. Amir Aligholi, Sanaz Allahyari, and Amir Hossein Mohammadifar, members of the editorial board of the online publication Gam, have also been detained since January. Several members of Iran’s teachers’ union, including Ismael Abdi, Mohammad Habibi, and Mahmoud Beheshti Langroudi, who were arrested in the past two years, remain in prison for their peaceful activism.
Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and article 8 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) protect the right to form and join labor unions. Iran is a party to both of these treaties. Iran is a member of the International Labour Organization (ILO), but has refused to sign the treaty’s convention 87 on Freedom of Association and the Protection of the Right to Organize and 98 on the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining.