Security agents have targeted the family of civil activist Sepideh Gholian, launching a brutal attack just days after she was re-arrested for supporting striking workers.
Sepideh Gholian was originally arrested on November 18, 2018 along with Esmail Bakhshi, a strike leader for Haft-Tappeh Sugarcane Factory workers. Authorities re-arrested them on January 19 after Iranian state TV broadcast a so-called “documentary” showing Gholian and Bakshi being forced to "confess" to their crimes. Speaking to IranWire, Gholian’s father, Khoda Rahm Gholian, confirmed this. “It was 7am when 12 male and two female agents entered our home and used violence,” he said. “They broke my son’s teeth and beat both my wife and me.” He said his wife sustained injuries when the agents held a knife to her throat. “They threatened to kill my daughter. Sepideh was screaming and her brother went to defend her. But they tied him up and threw him into the trunk [of the van]. They did not even allow him to change his clothes.”
The Telegram channel run by the Haft-Tappeh Labor Union also reported that security agents raided the Gholian home without an arrest warrant. When Sepidideh’s brother Mehdi Gholian tried to stop the agents, they retaliated, using violence against the family and arresting Sepideh and Mehdi.
When IranWire spoke to their father Khoda Rahm Gholian, his voice was tired and forlorn, revealing the strains of what he’d been through over the last two days. During this time, he has visited every intelligence and judiciary office in the Khuzestani city of Shush. “Just now, at five in the afternoon, we managed to get a letter from the prosecutor’s office in Shush to meet Sepideh and Mehdi,” Khoda Rahm Gholian told IranWire. “Now we are leaving for Ahvaz,” he told IranWire, referring to the provincial capital of Khuzestan.
A Winter of Suppressing Protests
Sepideh Gholian was arrested for supporting protests by Haft-Tappeh workers over unpaid salaries and lack of job security. After their release in December, both she and Esmail Bakhshi announced that they had been tortured while in custody and demanded an investigation into the matter. But the authorities refused. Instead, they broadcast their forced confessions and re-arrested them. “For two days I have been on my feet,” Khoda Rahm Gholian said. “They would not give us any answers. Today we stood outside the courthouse from early in the morning. Shush’s prosecutor is a good man and an hour ago he met us. When I told him that we had not heard from our children for days, he gave us a letter so we could meet Sepideh and Mehdi. Now, of course, we have to see if they will let us.”
The activist’s father told IranWire the family is desperate. “Me and my wife bought gasoline to set ourselves on fire in front of the Intelligence Bureau in Ahvaz,” he said. “What crime have our children committed? They only said: ‘pay the workers their wages.’”
Where are Sepideh and Mehdi Being Held?
The family is also worried because they don’t know where Sepideh and Mehdi have been taken. “Since yesterday we have searched everywhere, from the prosecutor’s office to the Intelligence Bureau and anywhere else [where they] could have been holding Sepideh and Mehdi,” Khoda Rahm Gholian said. “This morning Sepideh was able to make a short call and told us that she was at the same place as before, meaning Ahvaz’s Intelligence Bureau. But I am not sure. The letter that they gave us says that we must go to the Intelligence Bureau in Ahvaz to meet them, but we were told that they would bring them from somewhere else. I don’t know where from.”
Other labor activists have expressed worry about the psychological pressure the brother and sister have been under. And authorities have threatened the parents, warning them to keep silent about their children. “When I went to the courthouse to get news about them, I was threatened with arrest,” said their father. “They told us not to give interviews. ‘You don’t give us any news,’ I told them. ‘What other way do I have to get news of my children?’”
International human rights organizations have expressed fears that Gholian and Esmail Bakhshi are at “grave risk” of being tortured again while under arrest.
Deprived of Necessary Medication
Khoda Rahm Gholian said he is extremely worried about the health of his children and especially Mehdi who, according to him, suffers from diabetes and other ailments. “I have no idea how Mehdi has got through these two days without his medication,” he told IranWire. “The Revolutionary Court had given our names to every [office] that we went to, from the court to the security police and the Intelligence Bureau of Shush. They had told all of them not to give us any answers. Now, if I can just see my children, I will go back home. I do not feel well. Yesterday I felt so bad that I called my other daughter to come and take me to the hospital.”
Before her second arrest, Sepideh Gholian recorded a short video in which she talked about what she had gone through during 31 days of interrogation and torture by the Intelligence Ministry. BBC Persian posted the video on its site soon after she was re-arrested. “I don’t know where and in what conditions I will be when this video is published,” she says in the 11-minute video, “but I want to say that my only demand is that the trial must be public in front of the media and that if they have any evidence that proves their charges against me they must publish it.”
In addition to the video clip, after her second arrest, Sepideh Gholian’s friends posted an audio file on social media [in Persian]. The file is a recording of a telephone conversation between the activist and an agent known by the name of Sadeghian, thought to be employed by the Intelligence Bureau of Shush. During the audio clip, Gholian threatens to commit suicide if her forced confessions are broadcast and says that if she does take her own life, the responsibility will lie with the Intelligence Ministry.
Iranian TV Airs Forced Confessions of Labor Activists, January 23, 2019
Rouhani Government to Sue Labor Leader for Torture Claims, January 9, 2019
Activist Challenges Intelligence Minister to TV Debate, January 4, 2019
Labor Protests and Arrests Continue, December 12, 2018
Crackdown on University Students for Supporting Striking Workers, December 10, 2018
Sugar Refinery Workers Face New Round of Harassment, December 5, 2018
Pro-Labor Student Protest Ends in Violence, December 5, 2018
Striking Steel Workers Tell Rouhani: "We Have Had it!", December 3, 2018
Arrest and Torture of Protesting Workers, November 29, 2018
The Rise and Fall of Haft-Tappeh Sugar Factory, November 22, 2018
The Plight of Iran’s Unpaid Workers, April 10, 2018