Published: 03/12/2010

In the latest crackdown on Iran’s independent union at the giant cane growing and processing Haft Tapeh complex in the southern city of Shush, Executive Board President Reza Rakhshan was sentenced to 6 months in prison on December 1. The Ahvaz Court of Appeal found him guilty of “spreading lies” – the consequence of an article Rakhshan recently published  entitled ‘Happy Birthday Sugarcane Workers!’

In the article, published on Farsi-language internet sites, Rakhshan wrote: “It is now two years since the union came into being – two bittersweet years.

“On the one hand, after much ebb and flow, five members of our executive – Fereidoun Nikoufard, Ali Nejati, Jalil Ahmadi, Ghorban Alipour, and Mohammad Heidari– were eventually sentenced by the Dezful Revolutionary Court to jail terms and transferred to prison after being fired from their jobs. Following several prison stints, I was, fired from my job over ten months ago.

“On the other hand, the establishment of the union has been something of an achievement for the other workers since the authorities have taken a sudden interest in the company’s affairs– after three years of continual neglect t– by virtue of the union’s mere existence. The result: the condition of workers and that of the Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane Company are in much better shape than before.”

He could have added that the fired union members have all been expelled from their homes and are blacklisted from employment throughout the region. And that improvements in the workers’ situation are the result of repeated strikes and other actions to claim huge wage arrears and protest deteriorating working conditions. The union was officially founded in June 2008 following a 42-day strike and is an IUF affiliate.

Every word that Rakhshan wrote is true – but in Iran speaking the truth can result in losing one’s job, expulsion from one’s home, imprisonment and torture.

On November 18, three Haft Tapeh members – Behrouz Nikoufard, Alireza Saeed, and Behrouz Molazadeh – were convicted and sentenced to 6 months in prison by the Ahwaz Court of Appeal on charges of “showing disrespect to the Supreme Leader”. They were all arrested in the general crackdown following election protests last year.

Over and above the daily repression which marks the dictatorship in Iran, the authorities are reinforcing security measures and cracking down on labour and human rights activists to preempt anticipated protests as they prepare to radically cut subsidies for fuel and basic foodstuffs. Last month another member of the Vahed union of Tehran bus workers was jailed, bringing to 5 the number of Vahed members in prison.

CLICK HERE to send a message to the Iranian state and judicial authorities demanding immediate and unconditional freedom for all Haft Tapeh members and their reinstatement in their jobs and homes. Your message will be conveyed to the Haft Tapeh workers.

Please note that some messages may bounce back – do not be discouraged! Server overload is a common condition in Iran – some messages will get through, making the point that the persecuted trade unionists enjoy international support. The Haft Tapeh union leaders and members are also supported by Amnesty International.

You can also send a message to the Iranian embassy or diplomatic representation in your country – or pay them a visit! A complete list of embassies/consulates is available here, and you can generally find e-mail addresses by searching the internet for the individual representation in your country.