Iran released prominent labor activist Esmail Bakhshi on October 30, after 10 months in Evin Prison. Bakhshi, who was targeted for his work supporting fellow Haft-Tappeh Sugar Factory workers, was forced to pay a bail of 750 million tomans, over $67,000.
This follows the release of activist Sepideh Gholian and five others on October 26. They were also made to settle enormous bail amounts.
Bakhshi was granted freedom following repeated obstruction and sabotage from both the judiciary and security agencies. A few hours before his release, his lawyer Farzaneh Zilabi told Ensaf News that Bakhshi should have been out earlier but the process of posting bail had been delayed by the court in the city of Dezful in Khuzestan province, which has jurisdiction over the Haft-Tappeh workers’ cases.
Esmail Bakhshi was first arrested on November 18, 2018, 14 days after striking workers from Haft-Tappeh Sugar Factory began their protests. He was released on a bail of 400 million tomans ($36,000 thousand) on December 12, 2018, but first he was tortured and forced to confess to the crimes for which he had been accused. Sepideh Gholian had also been arrested and later released after being forced to confess.
During Bakhshi's first arrest, authorities beat him savagely. “Several times they beat him to near death,” a relative of Bakhshi told IranWire at the time [Persian link]. “They beat him on his testicles with a cable and now he has difficulty sitting, walking and sleeping.” Under relentless and merciless physical and psychological torture, Bakhshi was forced to make bogus confessions in front of TV cameras.
For some time, Bakhshi’s arrest and torture were top news stories in Iran, prompting judiciary and government officials and some members of the parliament to deny that he had been tortured. In January 2019, Hassan Rouhani’s administration signaled that it might sue Bakhshi for what it called “false claims of torture.”
But social, political and civil rights activists who themselves had been subjected to torture while under arrest went onto social media and shared their own stories of how they had been treated by interrogators, prison officials, security agents and anti-riot police. The outcry was so effective that on January 7, 2019, Sadegh Amoli Larijani, who was chief justice at the time, ordered Iran’s attorney general to form an independent commission to investigate claims of torture and publish the results, although he did not specifically name Bakhshi. “A worker might break the law but treating him unlawfully is in no way acceptable.” There has been no further mention of the report or investigation, however, and Larijani finished his tenure in March and was soon replaced by Ebrahim Raeesi.
In response to the denials about how he was treated, Bakhshi posted information on Instagram about his torture and the way his wife and family were treated during his arrest. In an open letter, he challenged intelligence minister Mahmoud Alavi to a TV debate to publicly justify authorities' behavior.
Like a Mouse in a Mousetrap
Labor activists reported that Esmail Bakhshi had been hospitalized after “his head was black and blue from repeated beatings” and he had suffered from internal bleeding. In his letter to the minister of intelligence, Bakhshi said he had been so badly beaten that he was "near death" and that he still suffers pain because of the attacks. He said the psychological torture was worse, and he was left feeling "like a mouse caught in a mousetrap.”
However, a short while after they were released following the airing of their TV confessions, Bakhshi and Gholian were arrested again were put under pressure to make another TV confession, though they refused.
On September 7, 2019, Judge Mohammad Moghiseh of Tehran Revolutionary Court Branch 28 sentenced seven labor activists, including Esmail Bakhshi and Sepideh Gholian, to a total of 110 years in prison and 74 lashes for participating in the 2018 protests held by unpaid workers from the Haft-Tappeh Sugar Factory. Esmail Bakhshi was sentenced to 14 years and 74 lashes, while Sepideh Gholian received a sentence of 24 years in prison.
After issuing his verdict, Judge Moghiseh, who is well known to the international human rights community because of his extensive violations of these rights, told the defendants and others present in the court: “These verdicts against Haft-Tappeh defendants are very just and they would please God. By issuing these verdicts I have secured a place for myself in the next world.” [Persian link].
Astronomical Bails for Six Journalists and Activists, October 27, 2019
“We are appalled that people are incarcerated for their beliefs”, October 24, 2019
Imprisoned Activist Speaks Out for All Women Prisoners, September 23, 2019
Influential French Union in Solidarity with Iranian Workers, September 20, 2019
Fractured Heads and Bloodied Bodies: Police Attack Protesting Workers, September 19, 2019
110 Years in Prison for 7 Labor Activists, September 8, 2019
Workers Beaten and Arrested at May Day Parade, May 1, 2019
Labor Activists Face Intense Pressure for Another TV Confession, February 22, 2019
Iranian TV Airs Forced Confessions of Labor Activists, January 23, 2019