Iran: Release Labor Activists Re-Arrested For Revealing They’d Been Tortured
Esmail Bakhshi and Sepideh Qoliyan Both At Risk of Serious Harm
January 22, 2019—The arrests of labor activist Esmail Bakhshi and freelance reporter Sepideh Qoliyan (also spelled Sepideh Gholian) on January 20, in Shush, Khuzestan Province, by agents of Iran’s Intelligence Ministry after they spoke out about being tortured during their recent detentions, is an outrageous and unlawful abuse of power, and both activists should be released immediately, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) said in a statement today.
“Bakhshi and Qoliyan were re-arrested for one reason: to punish them for speaking publicly about being tortured in order to silence them and all others who dare speak out,” said Hadi Ghaemi, CHRI’s executive director.
In light of these re-arrests and the grave danger that both Bakhshi and Qoliyan will face more torture, CHRI urges the following actions:
- The Iranian authorities should immediately release Bakhshi and Qoliyan, ensure their protection, and re-open an independent and impartial investigation into their alleged torture, which should exclude officials who are in any way associated with the alleged acts.
- The UN, including the Office of the Secretary General, the special rapporteur on Iran, the special rapporteur on torture, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and all relevant UN human rights bodies should take coordinated action to call for the activists’ immediate release and demand a full and impartial investigation into their alleged torture.
- Iran’s international partners, including the European Union, should urgently address this situation with their Iranian counterparts and use all means available to pressure the Iranian authorities to release the activists, ensure their safety and address the urgent need to safeguard persons who reveal abuse in Iranian state custody.
“The authorities must be held accountable for this unlawful behavior or the message will be that it is not safe for anyone to speak out against unlawful behavior in Iran,” said Ghaemi.
The two labor activists were previously arrested on November 18, 2018, and held in detention for roughly a month in an Intelligence Ministry-run detention center in Ahvaz. After their release on bail, they both stated they had been tortured and issued allegations that were confirmed by eyewitnesses.
An ostensible “investigation” that lasted two days, relied on statements by officials implicated in the events, and ignored eyewitness accounts found their allegations were false.
On January 19, President Rouhani’s Intelligence Ministry gave the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) a video of the two labor activists’ so-called “confessions,” which was made behind closed doors when the two were in detention, denied access to legal counsel and allegedly being tortured.
Bakhshi’s lawyer, Farzaneh Zilabi, described IRIB’s airing of these statements by his client as a violation of the law. “Airing this documentary is unjustifiable and unacceptable. Now that the confidential investigations in this fake case have been made public through a deceptive, selective and unfair documentary, Mr. Bakhshi wants an open and transparent trial,” Zilabi wrote in a commentary on Emtedad news site on January 20.
Bakhshi’s lawyer added that the airing of the program was a violation of Article 96 of Iran’s Criminal Procedures Regulations, which makes it a crime to publish the identity and image of the accused before they’ve been convicted of a crime.
The UN and international organizations have repeatedly condemned the Iranian authorities for broadcasting on state TV “confessions” extracted through coercion and torture and without access to a lawyer, and using them as evidence in court.
The day after state-run TV aired the video, Bakhshi and Qoliyan were arrested again. The independent news channel of the Haft Tappeh sugarcane workers in Shush said via its Telegram channel that the arrest of the two activists took place with violence and Intelligence Ministry agents also took Sepideh’s brother, Mehdi Qoliyan, into custody for objecting to the raid and resisting arrest.
The Qoliyans were arrested on the morning of January 20 and hours later Bakhshi was detained and taken to an unknown location. The news channel reported that Sepideh and Mehdi Qoliyan were beaten during their arrest and Bakhshi was taken away by “a large unidentified armed force.”
“Instead of punishing those who commit torture, the Iranian authorities punish the victims of torture,” Ghaemi said. “These two labor activists are now at grave risk of being tortured again, and it’s imperative for the international community to register its total condemnation of this thuggish and unlawful behavior.”