Iran: Arbitrary detention of labour rights activist Ms. Sepideh Gholian

26/06/2020
Urgent Appeal
en fa

New information
IRN 007 / 0919 / OBS 072.3
Arbitrary detention /
Pardon
Iran
June 26, 2020

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Iran.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by the League for the Defence of Human Rights in Iran (LDDHI) about developments in the situation of three labour rights defenders convicted in the Haft Tappeh Sugar Cane Company case, including the arbitrary detention of labour rights activist Ms. Sepideh Gholian, and the pardon of Messrs. Esmail Bakhshi and Mohammad Khanifar, respectively Spokesperson and member of the independent Workers Syndicate of Haft Tappeh Sugar Cane Company.

According to the information received, on June 21, 2020, Ms. Sepideh Gholian reported herself to the Verdicts Enforcement Office in Tehran’s Evin prison and was detained to serve her five-year prison sentence (see background information). At the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal, the place of detention of Ms. Gholian was not known. On June 16, 2020, she was informed by the judge in charge of the Verdicts Enforcement Office that she would be sent to Qarchak prison, east of Tehran, to serve the sentence handed down against her in December 2019 unless she wrote a letter requesting a pardon from the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, which she refused.[1]

On May 23, 2020, the lawyer of Messrs. Esmail Bakhshi and Mohammad Khanifar reported that on the occasion of Eid El-Fitr, her clients were pardoned by the Supreme Leader. Messrs. Esmail Bakhshi and Mohammad Khanifar had been sentenced along with Ms. Sepideh Gholian to five years in prison by the Court of Appeals of Tehran on December 14, 2019, in relation to union activities in the context of the strike by workers of the Haft Tappeh Sugar Cane Company[2] in Shush, Khuzestan Province, south-west Iran.

The Observatory welcomes the pardon of Messrs. Esmail Bakhshi and Mohammad Khanifar but reminds that they should never have been prosecuted and detained in the first place. The Observatory also expresses its strong concern over the arbitrary detention of Ms. Sepideh Gholian, which seems to be only aimed at punishing her for her human rights activities and the legitimate exercise of her right to freedom of association.

The Observatory calls on the Iranian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Ms. Sepideh Gholian, and to put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against all human rights defenders mentioned in this urgent appeal, as well as all other human rights defenders in Iran.

Background information:

In November 2018, workers at the Haft Tappeh Sugar Cane Company, located in Shush, Khuzestan Province, began a month-long strike. They were demanding the payment of months of unpaid wages and the return of the agro-industrial complex’s ownership to the public sector. Haft Tappeh is the largest sugarcane factory in Iran and employs thousands of workers.

On November 18, 2018, Mr. Esmail Bakhshi, Ms. Sepideh Gholian, and Mr. Mohammad Khanifar were arrested on charges of “gathering and collusion against national security” (Article 610 of the Islamic Penal Code). Mr. Bakhshi and Ms. Gholian were released on bail on December 12 and 18, 2018, respectively. After being released, they revealed that they had been tortured and forced to confess and their “confessions” were televised. They were re-arrested in Ahvaz, Khuzestan Province, on January 20, 2019. Ms. Gholian was detained in Sepidar prison until April 28, 2019, before being transferred to Evin prison where she remained until June 3, 2019, and then was transferred to Qarchak prison. Mr. Bakhshi was detained in Shayban prison in Ahvaz, until April 28, 2019, and then transferred to Evin prison. Mr. Mohammad Khanifar was released on bail on November 22, 2018.

On September 7, 2019, Branch 28 of the Islamic Revolution Court in Tehran sentenced the three defenders to long prison terms ranging from six to 18 years in prison, after unfair trials in August. They all appealed the sentences.

On October 26, 2019, Ms. Sepideh Gholian was released from Qarchak prison in Varamin, south of Tehran, on a bail of five billion rials. Ms. Gholian was released one day after ending a five-day hunger strike to protest against her conditions of detention and the Intelligence Ministry’s harassment of her family. On October 30, 2019, Mr. Esmail Bakhshi was released on a bail of 7.5 billion rials.

Moreover, in a separate incident, Mr. Mohammad Khanifar was re-arrested by local judicial officials while he was on his way to Tehran for meetings with Members of Parliament on October 7, 2019. He was released on bail on October 9, 2019 but remained prosecuted for disrupting public order (Article 618). He was ultimately acquitted in this case on December 23, 2019.

On December 14, 2019, the Court of Appeals of Tehran upheld the conviction of Ms. Sepideh Gholian, Mr. Esmail Bakhshi, and Mr. Mohammad Khanifar on charges of “gathering and collusion against national security” and sentenced them to five years in prison each.

The court also upheld the conviction and two-year prison sentence against Mr. Esmail Bakhshi on charge of “insulting the Supreme Leader” (Article 514).

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Iran asking them to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Ms. Sepideh Gholian, Mr. Esmail Bakhshi, Mr. Mohammad Khanifar and all other human rights defenders in Iran;

ii. Immediately and unconditionally release Ms. Sepideh Gholian and all other human rights defenders arbitrarily detained in Iran as their detention is arbitrary since it only seems to aim at punishing them for their human rights activities;

iii. Put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Ms. Sepideh Gholian, Mr. Esmail Bakhshi, Mr. Mohammad Khanifar and all other human rights defenders in Iran, and ensure they are able to carry out their activities without hindrance;

iv. Conform to all the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, in particular its Articles 1, 6, 9, 11 and 12;

v. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Iran.

Addresses:

• Leader of the Islamic Republic, H.E. Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei, Fax: + 98 21 441 2030, Email: info_leader@leader.ir; Twitter: @khamenei_ir
• President Hassan Rouhani, Islamic Republic of Iran, Fax: + 98 21 644 54811; Email: media@rouhani.ir; Twitter: @HassanRouhani (English) and @Rouhani_ir (Persian).
• Head of the Judiciary, H.E. Hojattolislam Ebrahim Ra’eesi, Islamic Republic of Iran, Fax: +98 21 879 6671 / +98 21 3 311 6567, Email: info@dadiran.ir / info@dadgostary-tehran.ir / info@bia-judiciary.ir
• Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Islamic Republic of Iran, Fax: +98-21-66743149; matbuat@mfa.gov.ir
• Secretary General, High Council for Human Rights, Mr. Ali Bagheri Kani, Islamic Republic of Iran. Email: info@humanrights-iran.ir
• H.E. Mr. Esmaeil Baghaei Hamaneh, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Fax: +41 22 7330203, Email: mission.iran@ties.itu.int
• H.E. Mr. Peiman Seadat, Ambassador, Embassy of Iran in Brussels, Belgium, Fax: + 32 2 762 39 15. Email: secreteriat@iranembassy.be

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Iran in your respective countries.

***
Paris-Geneva, June 26, 2020

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.
 
To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
• E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
• Tel and fax FIDH +33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80
• Tel and fax OMCT +41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / +41 22 809 49 29

[1] Ms. Gholian is facing two other cases in which she has been charged with “spreading propaganda against the system” and “spreading falsehoods.” One is related to her reporting on the torture and abuse of Iranian Arab female prisoners in Ahvaz. Her 59-page report has been published online. The other concerns her disclosure that a reporter of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting had helped her interrogators to coerce her into a televised self-incriminating confession. The judiciary has not investigated her complaint against the said reporter. The said reporter lodged a complaint against her. The confessions were broadcast on January 19, 2019.
[2] The Haft Tappeh Sugar Cane Company was sold to a private company by the authorities in 2015. The latter soon accrued large debts, mostly owed to public utilities and tax authorities. To address the problem, the owners decided to withhold salaries, wages, and pensions. This decision triggered strikes.

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