Chris Strafford calls for solidarity with working class activists in the prisons of the Islamic Republic
Trade union leader Mansour Osanloo has been freed from prison after four years. Osanloo, chair of the Syndicat of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company (Sherkat-e Vahed), has been leading workers in their fight for better conditions and for independent unions in Iran.
Arrested in July 2007, he was charged with organising “propaganda against the regime” and later accused of being a threat to national security. Throughout his imprisonment he has been subject to horrific abuse. In February 2010 there was an attempt on Osanloo’s life in Rajai-Shahr prison. He was attacked by a former member of the Revolutionary Guards state militia with the support of prison wardens. Two other prisoners intervened and saved him. Later in June 2010 further tragedy hit his family when security forces attacked Zoya Samadi, Osanloo’s daughter-in-law, causing her to miscarry.
Osanloo’s release has been welcomed by trade unionists and the working class internationally. Unite general secretary Len McCluskey likened Osanloo’s courage to “a beacon of hope for the people of Iran” and said his release showed that international solidarity can help workers in struggle.
We should, however, remember the other working class activists that remain in the prisons of the Islamic Republic. Abdol Hosseini, Reza Gorgi, Behnam Ebrahimzadeh, Majid Tamjidi, Hassan Moradi, Hamid Reza Solouki, Ebrahim Madadi, Majid Tamjidi, Jafar Taghinejad and Reza Shahabi are still incarcerated for their involvement in the working class movement. There is growing concern over the lack of news of Ali Nejati, Reza Rakhshan, Mohammad Heydari Mehr, Jalil Ahmadi and Ferydoun Nikoufar, who are leading activists among the Haft Tapeh sugar cane workers. Then there are imprisoned teachers Rasoul Bedaghi and Aliyeh Eghdam. Just the tip of the iceberg – there are many more working class activists in prison or on bail awaiting trial.
Meanwhile, there is continuing repression of the student movement, with those on the left paying heavily for their opposition to the regime. Leftwing student and activist Mohammad Pourabdollah, who has been in prison since February 2009, was initially sentenced to six years, although this was reduced to three on appeal. He has spent months in solitary confinement, enduring methodical physical and mental torture. On the day of Pourabdollah’s arrest comrade Alireza Davoudi was also detained and later tortured to death.
Left activist Abed Tavancheh, a member of Amir Kabir student association, is currently being held in prison in Arak. He has been arrested several times before for organising students. State thugs forced him to give himself up after threatening to evict his family and take their possessions. This is a trick used by the regime to put as much pressure and pain on the family of those wanted for or convicted of political ‘crimes’, so they hand themselves over to the torturers rather than see their family homeless and destitute. Nasim Soltanbehgi, another leftwing student activist, who was involved in women’s movement, has recently been sentenced to six years for “endangering national security”.
Habib Latifi, a Kurdish student at Azad University, was arrested in Sanandaj in October 2007 during a massive crackdown and similarly charged with moharebeh – conspiracy against national security and being part of an armed group. A charge which Latifi’s family describe as a complete fabrication. Like other activists, including student activists Ali Ajami, Mohsen Ghamin and Nader Ahsani, comrade Latifi has been tortured and can be executed at any time.
In addition to what is in reality the thought crime of “endangering national security”, student and worker activists can be charged with “waging war against Islam”. Many of those recently arrested were involved in the inspirational movement in Iranian universities in 2007 and for them state prisons are not a new experience. 2007 not only saw students protests against the regime, but the militarisation of campuses and imperialist threats.
The best way to celebrate Osanloo’s release is by stepping up the international campaign in support of working class struggle against both the theocratic regime and imperialism. The Morning Star’s editorial was correct when it pointed out: “Many crocodile tears have been shed for Iranian democrats and trade unionists by western politicians, for whom the victims of theocratic regime repression are simply pegs on which to hang their demands for military invasion of Iran” (June 4-5).
It was also excellent that the Star gave over its front page of last weekend’s issue to Osanloo, but a pity that the same anti-imperialism did not feature in its lead story. Reporter Paddy McGuffin contented himself with quoting McCluskey, Unison leader Dave Prentis, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber, Amnesty International and the International Transport Workers Federation. The ITWF has previously organised protests against the Tehran regime’s treatment of trade unionists, but has deliberately avoided any mention of the imperialist threats, which the increasingly fragile regime feeds off in its attempts to cling to power.
We must continue through Hands Off the People of Iran and other anti-imperialist solidarity organisations to give practical as well as political solidarity to those in struggle within Iran.