Almost four months have passed since Mehran Raouf, a dual Iranian-British citizen and labor activist, was arrested in Tehran and transferred to Ward 2A of Evin Prison. The 64-year-old unionist has not been allowed to contact any of his closest relatives overseas and fears are growing for his welfare in solitary confinement.
Raouf was born in Iran and traveled to England to continue his education before the Islamic Revolution. As a dual national, he has divided his time between the two countries since then, teaching English and advocating for workers’ rights and unionization.
On October 16 last year Raouf was arrested in Tehran around the same time as a number of other civil activists. The charges against him are still unclear but the detention has been vehemently criticized by a number of different labor movements, which have since set up a committee to support him and demand his release.
One of the organizations involved is the International Alliance in Support of Workers in Iran (IASWI), which was formed in Canada in 2000 and has raised awareness of Raouf’s case with more than 90 other groups in recent months. Activist and IASWI member Sattar Rahmani told IranWire that during the arrest, security agents ransacked Raouf’s home and confiscated his personal belongings, including his computer and mobile phone. It was not until some time later that Raouf was able to call one of his distant relatives inside Iran to inform them of his whereabouts.
International Bodies Express Concerns
Human rights organizations and trade unions in Argentina, France and Spain, as well as the British Trades Union Congress (TUC), have all issued statements condemning Raouf’s arbitrary arrest and demanding his release.
In a letter to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, a group of France-based trade unions including SOLIDAR and UNSA wrote: "We draw your attention to the worrying situation of Mr. Mehran Raouf. He was born and raised in Iran, but has lived in Britain for a long time and has dual nationality. In Iran, he taught English to working-class families and helped to organize them by defending their rights. Following his severe mistreatment, we are extremely concerned about the situation."
Pointing out the fact that Raouf has allegedly been denied access to a lawyer, they added: "The full responsibility for the life of 64-year-old Mehran Raouf lies with the Islamic Republic of Iran. He is a prisoner of conscience who does not deserve an authoritarian prison [sentence] lasting three months. We, the French trade unions, call for the immediate release of Mehran Raouf in the name of respect for universal human rights."
Spain's largest trade union confederation, the Workers' Commissions, which has more than one million members, has also issued a statement in support of Raouf. Writing that the activist was “being held in the infamous Evin Prison in solitary confinement under the control of the Revolutionary Guards”, they stated: “Given the circumstances and the intense pressure being exerted by the prison authorities, there are concerns that he may have been ill-treated and tortured. We demand the immediate release of Mehran Raouf as a prisoner of conscience. He should not spend any more time unjustly in prison."
More than 97 trade unions within the framework of the International Workers' Network for Solidarity and Struggle have also written to British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, urging the British government to take action to secure Raouf’s release.
Members of the campaign say that not one of them is yet aware of the charges against Raouf. But they have received unsubstantiated reports that the British-Iranian was charged during interrogation with “membership of a communist group”.
This is a charge often leveled at labor rights activists in Iran as justification for their detention. But their demands are often well-founded and fall far short of communism. As Sattar Rahmani observes, citing years-long protests at the Haft Tappeh Sugar Company as an example, many workers in Iran are under huge pressure from temporary contracts and a lack of job security, while living on wages that leave them below the poverty line.
"Recently,” he says, “some labor activists have estimated the true poverty line to be below 10 to 12 million tomans per month [$416 to $521], but a worker’s minimum wage is 2.6 million tomans per month. The likes of Raouf are burdened linkage between the labor movement and the formation of organizations. Workers at Haft Tappeh, Hepco, Machine Sazi Tabriz, at automakers and mines and other factories, who all suffer from the same problems and do not have an arbitration body, are vulnerable to threats and dismissal. They are being crushed, so of course they work together to form independent syndicates."
IRGC detention centers and human rights violations
Mehri Jafari, a lawyer based in the United Kingdom, is also a member of the campaign in support of Mehran Raouf. "When a social activist is in detention,” she says, “the silence of the wider community provides the conditions for his or her repression, and he or she may be left at risk of harsh interrogation, forced confessions and torture."
Jafari says friends in London are worried that Raouf’s dual citizenship puts him at even greater risk. He had told his own contacts in the British capital that should be arrested, they were not to remain silent about it and should make as much noise as possible.
"Mehran is a social activist who operates peacefully,” Jafari says. “And belonging to a political group is not in itself a crime. Of course, we still do not know what the formal charges against him are. Ward 2A of Evin Prison is under the direct control of the Revolutionary Guards and news rarely leaks out of this prison, but we know the accusations against labor activists are usually general and vague, and follow some form of civil action they have taken.”
Those detained in Ward 2A, Jafari notes, also often go without the bare minimum of legal and humanitarian support. “They are deprived of the right to access a lawyer, which is afforded to every Iranian citizen according to the Constitution of the Islamic Republic. Even if the investigator of a case wants to deprive the defendant of access to a lawyer, he must first obtain a court order, which can also be challenged. But the prisoner’s right to this is taken away from them on this ward.”
She also adds that Raouf’s having been in solitary confinement since mid-October is illegal according to international law. “If someone is kept in solitary confinement for more than 15 days, it becomes a case of torture.
“We recently found out through phone calls that some people are being temporarily transferred to their cells for a couple of days: a source of hope that breaks the cycle. But their entry and exit into and from a solitary cell does not negate the impact of solitary confinement. The prisoner is still being interrogated, and there is still the possibility of a forced confession being made. All of this has no legal basis. Naturally, if we hear that Mehran Raouf has confessed to any crime, we’ll know this confession has no legal basis."