A leading activist and spokesman for workers’ rights has described his torture while in prison, and urged the Minister of Intelligence to publicly justify both his treatment and the repeated harassment of his family.
Esmail Bakhshi was arrested on November 18 and released on December 12.
Following his release, Bakhshi, who was detained along with fellow activists Ali Nejati and Sepideh Ghaliani, questioned the legitimacy of his jailers' conduct: "From the viewpoint of morality, of human rights and, especially, of Islam, what is the rule about torturing a detainee?” he demanded to know. “Is it permitted? If so, to what extent?” He called on Minister of Intelligence Mahmoud Alavi to answer these questions in a live television debate.
He also protested against the way his wife and family had been treated. “My interrogator said ‘we know everything about you.’... When I asked how, he said that they have been ‘eavesdropping’ on my phone conversations for a long time and this made me extremely angry during the interrogations .... What right does your intelligence establishment have to ‘eavesdrop’ on private phone conversations between me and my dear wife?”
Bakhshi and other workers at the Haft-Tappeh Sugarcane Factory in Khuzestan province began striking in early November in protest against unpaid wages and consistent mistreatment by their employers. They also called for retired employees to receive pensions to which they were entitled but had remained unpaid.
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, 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."
The strike has been one of the most prominent in a string of protests across Iran throughout 2018. Steelworkers in the same province also began protests in November. Iranians protested in dozens of cities across the city earlier in the year, voicing anger about corruption and the failing state of the economy. Women also staged solo protests around the country, part of civic outcries that became known as the “Revolution Women” movement.
Below is the text of the Bakhshi’s letter to the Intelligence Minister, Mahmoud Alavi.
Your Excellency Mr. Alavi:
During the 25 days that I spent unjustly in detention by the Intelligence Ministry, I suffered torments and pains that are still with me and I have sought refuge in medication and sedatives to escape from them. But, during this time, two basic questions have totally occupied my mind and it is only you who can answer them. It is my right and the right of the honorable Iranian people to get answers to these questions.
First, in the early days [after my arrest] they tortured and beat me to near death without any reason and without saying anything, so much so that for 72 hours I could not move in my cell. They had beaten me so hard that even my sleep was agonizing. Today, after nearly two months since those days, I feel extreme pain in my broken ribs, my kidneys, my left ear and my testicles. The interesting part is that the torturers who called themselves “Soldiers of the Hidden Imam” [the Shia Messiah], showered both me and Ms. [Sepideh] Ghalian with the most obscene sexual swearwords and beat her as well.
But worse than physical tortures were the psychological ones. I do not know what they did to me that I felt like a mouse caught in a mousetrap. My hands are still shaking. I who walked on earth with confidence was so humiliated that now I am not the same person. Even though I am taking tranquilizer pills, I still suffer from severe nervous breakdowns. Now I want to ask your excellency, as the Intelligence Minister and as a believing clergyman, this question: From the viewpoint of morality, of human rights and, especially, of Islam, what is the rule about torturing a detainee? Is it permitted? If so, to what extent?
The second question — much, much more important question for me and my family than physical and mental torture — is the question of “eavesdropping” on phone conversations between me and my family by your intelligence establishment. My interrogator said ‘we know everything about you. We even know how many times your wife has quarreled with you over your activities.” When I asked how, he said that they have been “eavesdropping” on my phone conversations for a long time and this made me extremely angry during the interrogations.
Now my family and I want to ask you as the Intelligence Minister and as a religious clergyman: From moral, human rights and Islamic points of view, is it permitted to “eavesdrop” on the most private conversations between people? What right does your intelligence establishment have to “eavesdrop” on private phone conversations between me and my dear wife?
Therefore I, Esmail Bakhshi, invite Your Excellency Mr. Alavi to a live TV debate to hear your answers.
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
Living on the Margins in Iran: The Rise and Fall of Khuzestan, November 2, 2018
The Plight of Iran’s Unpaid Workers, April 10, 2018