After spending two nights in a detention center in Tehran on dubious charges, a well known former union activist, his wife and four other men wee released on Wednesday, December 12.
Agents arrested Reza Shahabi, his wife Robabeh Rezaei and four of his friends on the night of December 10 at Shahabi’s home and place of work and took them to Vozara Detention Center in Tehran. They were given no credible reason for their arrest, accused of a range of crimes, and released two days later.
Shahabi, 46, is a former driver for Tehran Unified Bus Company. He has faced arrest and incarceration on multiple occasions and suffers physical ailments after going on long hunger strikes while in prison. After his release from prison, the municipal bus company fired Shahabi, and he has since run a small business preparing and selling food items from his home.
After his release on Wednesday, Shahabi told IranWire that he and the four others were arrested for no reason at all. Even the arresting agents did not know the reason the group were being targeted. “It was Monday night,” he said. “Hassan Saeedi, myself and three others had gathered to inspect the crumbling ceiling of the area that I use as a workshop to prepare my homemade food items when they barged in noisily and arrested us.”
It was past 10pm when the security agents rang the doorbell of the workshop. Earlier, Shahabi had sent his nephew out to do a chore and he assumed the bell meant he had returned. “Hassan Saeedi opened the door,” he told me. “They hit him on the chest and threw him down. Then somebody shouted ‘Police!’ They quickly rushed into the place and told us: ‘Kneel! On the Floor!’”
Like Shahabi, Hassan Saeedi was once a member of the Union of the Workers of Tehran Unified Bus Company. And like Shahabi, he was fired because of his union activities. “The yard, the roof — everywhere — was filled with policemen,” said Shahidi. “They searched everywhere, from top to bottom. First they said: ‘we are here because you prepare food [for sale] without a permit.’ And I told them, ‘even if what you say is true, it is up to the health ministry to question me, not the police.’”
Search for Other Excuses
Then they asked him whether he operates a distiller. “You have no idea!” he told them. “We distill all kinds of stuff here.” The agents told him they meant alcoholic beverages. “I would never do such a thing and give an excuse to a system that is looking for any excuse [to punish me] because of my record of activities,” he replied.
He explained that he distills traditional Iranian extracts from flowers and herbs. “We get online orders and we distribute them,” he said. “This is a non-controversial and useful home-run business. It is an effort to make a living in the right way.”
When Shahabi was behind bars, his wife Robabeh Rezaei came up with the idea of setting up a little shop to sell homemade food. “When I was released they did not let me get back to my job and so I had to do this,” he said. “We buy orange and pussy willow blossoms, chicory, rosewater and things like that from Shiraz or other towns, package them here and sell them to buyers.”
After the agents failed to find alcohol in his workshop, they noticed placards and banners from a recent workers’ rally in Shahabi’s yard, plus a copy of the union’s new charter on his desk. At that point, the agents accused the five people present of taking part in “an illegal gathering” and conducting illegal activities. “They saw the union documents, including the new charter,” Shahabi said. “They said that this [his workshop] was a ‘think tank’ and the place for planning workers’ rallies! The said our union was illegal. I answered: ‘As of now, no government agency has declared that our union is illegal. Even the verdict handed down to me by Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court did not say anywhere that the union was illegal. It only banned me from union activities for five years.’”
Eventually the agents who raided Shahabi’s workplace took him and his friends to Security Police Base No. 8. “I told them,” he said, “‘this is my workplace and, because of physical problems caused by prison, sometimes I ask my friends for help to move barrels or to repair and fix things. Mr. Hassan Saeedi, who has also been fired from his job and who is unemployed, is a friend of mine and works with me. Since the workshop’s ceiling was crumbling I asked them to help me to move the containers to the basement and they were there at my invitation.’”
The agents claimed they had raided the place because “devout people” had reported that suspicious people had been visiting Shahabi’s workplace. “They said they had received reports about illegal gatherings and political activities,” Shahabi said. “In their report they had written that they had entered the premises with a legitimate warrant, with respect and without violence. They asked us to sign their report [to confirm this claim] but we refused. They said they wanted to take our mugshots. I said: ‘this is not your job and you must send us to court. There they have somebody who takes mugshots and my mugshot was registered seven years ago in prison.”
Shahabi and his friends decided that if no convincing reason for their arrest was given or if they were not released quickly, they would go on hunger strike.
Before their release, the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) tweeted about the arrest, naming the detainees. In addition to Reza Shahabi and Hassan Saeedi, ILNA named Amir Abbas Azarmvand, Keyvan Mottahedi and Raham Yeganeh as the other arrested individuals.
“Hassan Saeedi has been fired and is not permitted to work,” Shahabi said. “One of those arrested is a language teacher and teaches our children. Another one is a journalist that I have known for years. My other friend is a university student and a film editor.”
According to Shahabi, the men were held at Vozara Detention Center with access to very limited amenities. “We spent a night without real blankets, slippers or heat,” he said. “We asked for blankets but they said that they had no budget for blankets. In the morning when we got up our bodies were itching.”
The next day, they were transferred to Evin courthouse. “The end of this hasty arrest was that they told us to sign a pledge that we would no longer participate in illegal gatherings and then we could go. We refused to sign anything. At 2:30pm they came and said we were free to go home!”
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Arrest and Torture of Protesting Workers, November 29, 2018
The Tehran Bus Driver Who Never Gave up the Struggle, August 20, 2018
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Tehran Bus Drivers Beaten up During Protests, December 9, 2016