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In Iran, a tortured labor activist challenges Intelligence Minister to TV debate

An image of Mahmoud Salehi who lost the use of his kidney as a result of torture

Following protests in recent months at the Haft Tapeh sugar cane factory in Shoush, Khuzestan Province, south east Iran, Esmail Bakhshi, spokesman for the union at the factory, was arrested on November 20th, along with 17 other workers.  The protests were organized to demand that workers at the factory be paid unpaid wages. After incarceration in difficult conditions and lengthy interrogations, these individuals were released on bail, while their cases continue to be investigated by the authorities. 

Activists noted that Bakhshi had suffered from internal bleeding and injuries and bruising to his head and face as a result of torture.  The Union of Workers of Teheran and Suburbs Bus Company published a statement reporting that Bakhshi ‘’was hospitalized at a security clinic in Ahvaz,’  the capital of the oil-rich province of Khuzestan, but was later returned to a detention facility. 

Iran released him on December 12, after 80 international labor organizations signed a letter to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei calling for all protesting workers and teachers who had been arrested in Iran for peacefully demanding their rights to be released. 

In a note on Farsi social media directed to Mahmoud Alavi, Iran’s Minister of Intelligence, Bakhshi wrote: ‘in the first few days, for no reason, they kicked and punched and abused me to the point of death.  For 72 hours I could not move in my cell or even sleep from the persistent pain.’ He added that he also suffered broken ribs and was still suffering from pain in his ribs, left ear and testicles.   

Haft Tapeh sugar cane factory labor protest. On the posters it says "we are hungry, we have nothing on our table."

Bakhshi said that his torturers identified themselves as the ‘unknown soldiers of the hidden Imam’  ( a title often used by security and intelligence officers in Iran). He stressed that the ‘psychological torture’ to which he was subjected was worse than the physical abuse. He added that along with journalist Sepideh Qolian, who was arrested at the same time, he was insulted with abusive sexual-related language. 

He noted that the questions directed to him by his interrogators appeared to indicate that they had been monitoring his telephone and internet use: ‘While beating me up, one of the interrogators said that they know everything about me, including a dispute with my wife about my labor rights activities.

The labor activist challenged the Minister of Intelligence to a debate on State TV concerning torture, persecution at the country's prisons and to answer his questions regarding his torture and mistreatment by the authorities.

In the note, Bakhshi asked Mahmoud Alavi, Iran Intelligence minister: "As a cleric, and from the moral and human rights point of view, tell us what is the sentence for those who torture prisoners? Is torturing prisoners permissible? If it is, to what extent? Has the ministry run by you the right to secretly monitor private telephone conversations?"

So far Iranian authorities have denied the reports about Bakhshi being subjected to torture in Prison and announced that these ‘fake claims and torture fabricated stories only feed the enemies of Iranian Islamic republic worldwide.’

Following the challenge of Esmail Bakhsi to the intelligence minister to held a TV debate, political prisoners that were themselves tortured in Iranian prisons have begun to publish their testimony. Mahmoud Salehi, for example, a well-known labor activist, has described how he lost the use of his kidneys as a result of torture and must now have dialysis each day for the rest of his life.   

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