Jahangir Heydari, an employee of the Bandar-e-Imam Khomeini tax office, who set fire to a part of the premises on May 5, 2020, to protest against the employment of Iranians from other parts of the country at the office, has been sentenced to three years in prison by Branch 2 of the city’s Criminal Court.

The dismissed employee – who is now facing a prison sentence – said in a video (in Persian) provided to IranWire that his goal in setting fire to the tax office was to fight discrimination, injustice and high rents.

Jahangir Heydari, aged 50, is the brother of two casualties (or “martyrs”) of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war and has no prior criminal record. He has served as an accountant and trustee in the Tax Affairs Department of the city of Bandar-e-Imam Khomeini for 25 years.

According to another employee of the tax office, Mehran S., who witnessed the events of May 5, 2020, Heydari, who was one of the longest-standing employees, had a verbal quarrel with the head of the office regarding the hiring of an employee who was soon to arrive from Tehran. Heydari proceeded to threaten the head of the office.

"Mr. Heydari used to say that in a situation where the youth of Mahshahr and Bandar-e-Imam Khomeini are unemployed and turn to addiction and delinquency, due to high unemployment, why are employment violations repeated and non-natives recruited by government offices and oil and gas facilities in Khuzestan?"

Article 47 of the Sixth Development Plan Law says that employing non-natives in Khuzestan is prohibited and that strict penalties will be imposed for violating the directive.

In recent years, sit-ins by young people in Khuzestan, to protest against the employment of non-Khuzestan citizens in government offices and oil and gas facilities, have become commonplace.

One of the most famous of these sit-ins, which was held repeatedly over a number of years, were the demonstrations staged by the youth of Shahrouei village in Behbahan. The village is the closest residential district to the Bidboland-2 oil refinery – yet most of the local young people are unemployed. And despite high youth unemployment, most of the workforce for the refinery is made up of Iranians hailing from beyond the province.

The protests were not without some cost. On December 13, 2015, a young protester named Morteza Farajnia was shot dead by police; another young man, Ebrahim Shahrouei, was shot and seriously injured and is now in a wheelchair.

Heydari, in the video received by IranWire, says that setting the tax office alight was for the sake of freedom and justice.

According to Hossein Chaharmahal, head of the fire department in Bandar-e Imam Khomeini, Heydari entered the office of the head of the Tax Affairs department with a gallon of gasoline on May 5, 2020, at which point he set it on fire.

Mehran S., a former colleague of Heydari’s, said that one of the floors of the office was completely torched and that the office was closed for several days for repairs. The Tax Affairs office sued Heydari and he was sentenced to the most severe punishment available under Article 18 of the Islamic Penal Code.

Arsalan Ghamgin, Director-General of the Khuzestan Labor and Social Welfare Cooperative, advocated for the Khuzestan law against employing non-natives of the province during a meeting with journalists in September 2020.

Ghamgin said: "Everyone is obliged to give priority to qualified provincial indigenous labor under this program, and the priority should be given to native residents using indigenous provincial labor, on scientifically and empirically equal terms, while prioritizing them based on the proximity of their place of residence."

But according to Mehran S., since most of the managers of provincial government departments are not from Khuzestan, they choose to recruit others from similar backgrounds into the Khuzestan administration by using illegal methods. He says that no law has been able to stop Khuzestan’s managers from employing non-natives.

Mehran S. added that the basis for this claim is the occasional publication of employment records showing the hundreds of individuals affiliated with petrochemical company officials.

The Bandar-e-Imam Khomeini tax office has a workforce of 40 people, some of whom are non-natives, apparently employed by the National Tax Office through official national testing and recruitment.

But hiring non-native forces in Khuzestan, which has many job opportunities due to its oil, gas and petrochemical plants, as well as ports, sometimes has regrettable results.

The case of Jahangir Heydari is one of them. His initial conviction was upheld by Branch 16 of the Khuzestan Court of Appeals. The second ruling was followed by the decision by a three-member administrative violations committee at the Tax Affairs office to dismiss Heydari from his job, in accordance with Clause 1 of Article 8 of the law, to prevent a repeat of the incident. He was also charged with taking arbitrary actions to enforce the law.

Heydari, in the video shared with IranWire, said: "Why did I set fire to the tax office of Bandar-e-Imam Khomeini? I, Jahangir Heydari, son of Yousef, an employee of the Tax Office of Bandar-e-Imam Khomeini, brother of the martyrs Jamshid and Talib Heydari, I would like to ask, what was the purpose of the revelation of the Prophet [Muhammad] and of our [1979 Islamic] revolution? What was the cry of our martyrs during the [Iran-Iraq war] for? I will continue their path in the fight against injustice and oppression and defend the rights of the people, especially the people of Khuzestan and Bandar-e Imam Khomeini. I protested against the recruitment of non-natives, as well as criminal gangs, [high] rent and nepotism."

Heydari added that he wrote letters to security and intelligence institutions, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Friday prayer leaders, and other local officials, about this injustice and corruption, but no one had responded to his protests. He also claimed that he had previously warned he would set the tax office on fire if he continued to witness injustice in the province. The alleged hiring of a relative by an official was the last straw.

"I was not happy in my heart, but the irresponsibility of the officials made me do it,” Heydari said in the video.

Heydari also claimed that in the court of Bandar-e Imam Khomeini, despite providing substantiated evidence about local corruption, he was again the victim of an injustice when the judge convicted him to three years in prison.

During his court hearing, Heydari said that if recruitment practices in the province did not change, he would set the tax office on fire again, after his release. The judge, for his part, pointed to Heydari’s apparent lack of remorse and repeated threats when explaining his decision to hand down the severest possible prison sentence.

"My job was to shout against oppression," Heydari said in the video. "I was forced to do so because of the silence of the authorities."

Mehran S. also said: "Didn't [officials] ask themselves why, in the protests of November 2018, Bandar Mahshahr and Imam Khomeini, despite being the largest export ports in Iran, and despite being key locations for more than 17 petrochemical companies, the people took to the streets, due to poverty, class discrimination, and corruption, and were killed?"

He added that Jahangir Heydari may have liberally interpreted Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s figurative exhortation to Iranians to “fire at will” against corruption and injustice.

"Didn't Khamenei himself tell students to react against cultural and social issues and corruption? Did he not say it?” Mehran S. asked.

The term "fire at will" was first used by Khamenei at a meeting with students in 2017 in which he called on them to take action against whatever the Iranian government termed as corruption and injustice. But many analysts have seen Khamenei's remarks as a license for extremist and revolutionary forces to act on their own.

Mehran S. was ironically suggesting that his colleague, Jahangir Heydari, had taken Khamenei’s instructions to heart, but that he was directing the fire back against the state.

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