Labor Activist Forced to Stay Behind Bars Until December 2018 Despite Completing Sentence
To protest being returned to prison two years after he was released, prominent labor activist Reza Shahabi started a hunger strike on August 9, 2017, in Rajaee Shahr Prison in Karaj, 31 miles east of Tehran.
“The prosecutor had told Shahabi and his family that he only had to spend three more months in prison to cover the time he was free on medical leave,” one of Shahabi’s colleagues told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on condition of anonymity on August 17.
“But after he went back to prison he realized that the authorities were not only going to make him serve five months for the time he spent outside prison for medical treatment, but also enforce a previous one-year conviction. That means he has to stay in prison until December 2018,” said the source.
“Shahabi began his hunger strike on August 9, but he was not able to declare it because he had no visits or phone calls,” added the source.
The 45-year-old board member of the Union of Workers of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company (UWTSBC) began his protest the day after he returned to Rajaee Shahr Prison on August 8 following several warnings that he would lose his security deposit if he refused to serve the remainder of a six-year prison sentence issued for his peaceful activism.
Shahabi had been released on medical grounds in September 2014 after posting bail set at 200 million tomans ($62,000 USD).
In a statement published on August 12, UWTSBC condemned Shahabi’s extended incarceration.
“The prosecutor’s assertion that Shahabi must spend five more months to complete his six-year prison term is unfounded because after he returned to prison he saw a letter from the judiciary which stated that his sentence terminated on September 9, 2015,” said the statement.
The one-year sentence added to Shahabi’s current prison time stems from a conviction for his alleged part in the April 17, 2014 clash between guards and prisoners in Evin Prison that became known as “Black Thursday.”
“The verdict issued by the Revolutionary Court was in the Black Thursday case when special guard units attacked political prisoners in Ward 350,” Shahabi’s colleague told CHRI at the time.
“Shahabi was injured during that attack, but the prison officials and the guards who carried out the assault testified against him and in the end he was sentenced to another year in prison,” added the source.
“A return to detention of Reza Shahabi, unjustly convicted for his trade union activity, would be only a further violation of international conventions and a violation of human rights,” said the organization in a letter.
Iran is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which mandates in Articles 21 and 22 freedom of association and guarantees the right to form trade unions, and to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which guarantees in Article 8 the right of workers to form or join trade unions and protects the right of workers to strike.
The Iranian Constitution also contains provisions for such rights: Article 26 guarantees the right to form “parties, societies, political or professional associations,” and Article 27 states that “Public gatherings and marches may be freely held, provided arms are not carried and that they are not detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam.”
Despite this, independent labor unions are banned in Iran, strikers are often fired and risk being detained, and labor leaders face long prison sentences on trumped up national security charges.