Activists Acquitted of National Security Charges for Peaceful Defense of Labor Rights
“The Appeals Court’s decision explicitly states that a review of my clients’ activities shows they were trying to help workers attain their legitimate rights and therefore their actions were not deemed intended to ‘disrupt national security’ or engage in ‘propaganda against the state,’” the activists’ lawyer, Mohammad Ali Jedari Foroughi, told the semi-official Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) on May 22, 2017.
Azimzadeh, chairman of the Free Workers Union of Iran (FWUI) and his colleague Ehsani-Rad, were taken to court by the Safa Rolling and Pipe Mills Company and accused of provoking its workers to go on strike in April 2015 to demand several months of unpaid wages and benefits.
“The Appeals Court’s decision finding them innocent is an important victory in the just struggle of the Iranian workers and a step forward in the fight against accusing trade union activists and civil rights workers of national security crimes,” said the FWUI in a statement on May 22. “We expect that the decision by Branch 8 of the Central Province Appeals Court will become the standard in all other courts in the country.”
Labor activism in Iran is seen as a national security offense; independent labor unions are not allowed to function, strikers are often fired and risk arrest, and labor leaders are consistently prosecuted under catchall national security charges and sentenced to long prison terms.
In September 2016, Azimzadeh and Ehsani-Rad were sentenced to 11 years in prison each for “assembly and collusion against national security” and “propaganda against the state” by the Criminal Court in the city of Saveh, southwest of Tehran.
Azimzadeh’s lawyer told ILNA that he would also request a review of a six-year prison sentence issued to the activist in March 2015 by the Tehran Revolutionary Court on similar charges: “assembly and collusion against national security” and “propaganda against the state.”
Azimzadeh was granted bail and conditionally released on June 30, 2016 while awaiting a decision on his appeal. However, in December 2016 he was ordered to return to Evin Prison in Tehran by January 13, 2017 or his bail guarantor would lose 450 million tomans ($140,000 USD).
“All the charges and accusations against me are for trade union activities, such as organizing unions, non-violent labor strikes, and interviews with the media to defend workers’ rights, myself included,” Azimzadeh told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) in October 2015.
“The Free Workers Union was formed in 2007 on the basis of the Constitution,” he added, referring to the right to assemble freely. Article 27 of Iran’s Constitution states, “Public gatherings and marches may be freely held, provided that arms are not carried and that [the events] are not detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam.”
The FWUI “sees itself as a vessel for achieving the rights of all workers in Iran and attaining a humane living standard for the working class based on contemporary advances,” according to its Articles of Association.
The FWUI’s May 22 statement also called for the immediate release of Esmail Abdi, the former leader of Iran’s largest teachers’ union, and human rights activist Atena Daemi, who has been on hunger strike in Evin Prison since April 8.
“In our struggle against the persecution of trade union and civil rights’ activists on security charges, we insist on the immediate freedom of Esmail Abdi, Atena Damei and all others who have been imprisoned for seeking freedom and justice,” said the statement.