In an increasingly tense and prolonged stand-off between striking miners, the Bafgh Iron Ore Mines, and judicial officials, which originally began in May 2014 over plans to privatize the mine, a new round of strikes at the mines began on August 19 over the arrests of some of the strikers, reportedly involving some 5000 miners, according to ILNA, and drawing in the surrounding community in sit-ins protesting the arrests.
The strike is unusual in its scope and duration, especially given the fact that nine of the strikers have been arrested and warrants for the arrest of 18 strikers have been issued, and in the citizen involvement in the matter, which has included the sit-ins at the Governor’s Office by other miners, the families of the arrested, and citizens of the town of Bafgh, demanding the release of the arrested miners. Moreover, the mine company agreed to withdraw the charges against the striking miners, so that the arrested individuals could be released, but judicial officials have still refused to release them.
Despite the fact that the Iranian constitution provides for peaceful protests by workers, strikers are routinely arrested and detained by the authorities in Iran, and labor activists are systematically persecuted and prosecuted.
The original two-day strike, which began on May 9, 2014, was based on worker opposition to the government’s gradual privatization plan for the Central Iron Ore Company of Iran, the holding company of the Bafgh mine, which has now been fully transferred to the Khuzestan Steel Company. The workers went on strike again on May 17, remaining on strike for 40 days until government authorities agreed to their demands to stop the transfer of the remaining 28.5% stock of the Bafgh Mine to the Khuzestan Steel Company, and reverse the previous transfer of 71.5% of the mine’s stock. The workers also demanded that the company’s Managing Director be replaced with a local professional, that two local residents be allowed to join the company’s Board of Directors, and that employment conditions and job security be improved. The workers set a time limit of two months for their demands to be met, but before the two months ended, the mining company pressed charges against the strikers, the arrest warrants for the 16 workers were issued, and several of the miners were arrested.
The new strike began on August 19, after police arrested the nine mine workers, according to ILNA. When the detained workers were not freed even after the company dropped the charges against them, a spokesperson for the Bafgh City Council told ILNA that the workers’ release is now dependent on the decision of Yazd Province’s Security Council.
One of the detained miners, Ali Mohammad Tashakori, is also Head of the Bafgh City Council. Two of the workers, Amir Hossein Kargaran and Ali Sabri, were arrested on August 19, and Mohammad Hassan Tashakori, Kazem Kargaran, Reza Dehestani, Reza Khajehzadeh, Jalil Kamali, and an individual identified only by the last name of Irani were arrested on August 23.
Referring to the earlier strike, during a visit to the mine on August 13, Iran’s Minister of Labor Ali Rabiee, had promised the mine workers that “even if this sit-in had lasted 339 days, I would not have allowed anyone to touch the workers.”
As the strike entered its tenth day and bail orders were issued for the release of eight of the detainees, families of the detained workers said today that they refuse to post bail for the release of their family members, because “the detainees did not commit a crime to receive bail orders for their release.”