Prisoners

"You Have No Credibility": Jailed Iranian Pensioner Refuses to Pipe Down

July 20, 2022
Javad Motevali
5 min read
Esmail Gerami, a 67-year-old retiree and trade unionist, has been sentenced to five years in prison, 74 lashes and a fine worth a month of his income for attending a pensioners' rally
Esmail Gerami, a 67-year-old retiree and trade unionist, has been sentenced to five years in prison, 74 lashes and a fine worth a month of his income for attending a pensioners' rally

“I, Esmail Gerami, am a retired employee from the Iran Carton Company, who wants his pension and the pensions of other retirees to be increase according to the law, and who has participated in lawful gatherings of retirees [to push for this], have been convicted, according to the laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and sentenced to four years in prison.”

Trade unionist Esmail Gerami, 67, a former electrician who retired in 2008, is serving a five-year prison sentence for his peaceful activism on behalf of Iranian pensioners going back to 2017. In August 2021, he wrote this dispatch from Greater Tehran Penitentiary.

He was first arrested on March 7, 2021 at a rally involving current laborers, teachers and pensioners outside the Ministry of Labor. He was released the next day, but hauled back from his home into custody by the IRGC on April 3, with a case filed against him at Evin Prison Court. Four days later he was placed in solitary confinement in Greater Tehran Penitentiary and has been there ever since.

Gerami is living with a range of medical difficulties including epilepsy, prostate problems, back pain and frequent toothaches. Despite this, he has repeatedly been denied medical leave.

In his letter of August 2021, he spoke up on behalf of other inmates about the conditions they were enduring. “This prison is just one of the many that have no drinking water. Inmates have to buy their own. There’s not enough warm water to take a bath. Even the food is of very low quality. Sometimes convicts have to buy ingredients and cook for themselves.”

 

A Unionist’s Diagnosis

Since last summer Gerami has managed to send two more dispatches from behind bars. On May 1, International Workers’ Day, he wrote: “If we were to name the countries where conditions are the worst for workers, one would be our own. For more than 43 years now, life has got worse and worse. Factories and firms are shutting down one after the other. Unemployment keeps growing. Young people who are ready to work have to live with their parents, jobless. There’s no insurance for workers. And all the government does about it is propagandise, propagandise, propagandise.

“Employers and contractors are benefitting from this wretched situation. They can fire people easily or not pay wages for months on end. Retirees, the disabled and pensioners have to deal with arbitrary payouts not in line with inflation. Day by day, they fall deeper below the poverty line.

“The main culprits are the big and small mafias within the state who are plundering this country’s wealth and the fruits of people’s labor, with their astronomical salaries, embezzlement and self-serving policies.”

Later that month, on May 26, Gerami wrote a last open letter: “The government and its agents have nipped in the bud any kind of protest for rights in the workplace – be it factories, universities, schools, hospitals or offices – through intimidation and terror.

“As time has gone by, it has shown that it is neither willing nor able to respond to people’s demands. As a result it has lost credibility. Nothing remains of the trust of the early post-revolutionary years.”

 

Pensioners Will Not Stand Down

In June 2021, Branch 36 of Tehran Revolutionary Court sentenced Gerami to five years of prison, 74 lashes and a two-million-toman (about $72, the average monthly pension payment in Iran) fine for “assembly and collusion against the state”. That September a court of appeal upheld the sentence.

A source who came to know Gerami at retirees’ rallies, which now take place frequently all over the country and in different sectors over similar issues, told IranWire: “The Islamic Republic of Iran treats an old man this way while driving the rest of the world deaf by screaming that it respects human rights.

“Esmail Gerami is the voice of the retiree community. He expresses the conditions in which we live. He asked everyone, colleagues, friends and acquaintances, to translate his letters into any language they could, and to send them to unions, syndicates and human rights organizations in different countries, so the world will know the Islamic Republic’s claims are outright lies.”

Another source close to the case told IranWire that after Gerami’s bail was set, his wife, Zhaleh Rouhzad, gathered the necessary paperwork and went to Evin Courthouse to begin the process for his release. “But the examining magistrate stalled and told her that it would take another two weeks.”

Nothing has happened since, and Gerami remains in prison to this day. “Mr. Gerami is 67 years old,” the source said. “He was only seeking what was due, for himself and his peers. He has committed no offence in prison either. This treatment is meant to put psychological pressure on his family and instil fear in other retirees. But as we’ve seen, the protests have not only not subsided; they have gathered pace.”

This source also rubbished the charges against Gerami. “Collusion against the regime… What collusion, and with whom? Do they mean the people going to rallies in wheelchairs or on walking sticks?”

 

A Broad Church of Support

On December 9 last year, 12 different unions representing retirees in Iran issued a joint statement demanding Gerami’s release. “Why has Esmail Gerami been kept in prison, for close to nine months, in the worst conditions, alongside dangerous criminals?” they demanded to know, adding: “What Esmail demands is the demand of all retirees.”

Iran’s National Retirees Association condemned the verdict against Gerami as well, calling it “tyrannical”.

The labor union of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company also issued a separate statement decrying the verdict against Gerami. Addressing the judiciary, it declared: “You will never silence the voice of the workers, retirees and other underprivileged groups in society with verdicts like this. Have no doubt that these voices will rise higher and higher in the current, abject situation.”

 

 

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