Iran arrests labor protest leader

Iran has been beset by protests from workers complaining about wages. Above, protest action in Tehran on June 25, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 21 January 2019

Iran arrests labor protest leader

  • Esmail Bakhshi organized protests to object alleged criminal activities of the new owners of the sugar factory
  • Iranian state TV claims that Bakhshi and another activist have connections with European activists

TEHRAN: An Iranian labor protest leader has been arrested for the second time, state media reported Monday, after the judiciary denied his claim that he was tortured in custody late last year.
Esmail Bakhshi “was arrested last night in cooperation with security and law enforcement forces,” Mansour Mohammadi, the prosecutor general of Dezful, in Khuzestan province, told the judiciary’s news website Mizan Online.
Bakhshi was one of the organizers of weeks of protests at the Haft Tapeh sugar factory in the city of Shush in November and December, over unpaid wages and alleged criminal activity by new private owners.
State TV on Saturday broadcast a program claiming that Bakhshi and Sepideh Gholian, another activist who supported the Haft Tapeh strikers, had connections with Europe-based activists who “aim to topple the state.”
The program featured footage of Bakhshi and Gholian sitting behind desks in front of red and blue curtains, detailing their connections and activities with the activists, allegedly based in several European countries.
The footage was undated and taken in an unknown location.
Both Bakhshi and Gholian were detained last year during the protests.
Gholian was also arrested Sunday, according to Mizan Online.
The semi-official Fars news agency, close to conservatives, said Bakshi had attempted to flee the country to continue the “torture allegation project” abroad.
After his release from his first detention, Bakhshi claimed on his Instagram account, that he had been tortured during his 25-day detention by agents of the intelligence ministry.
In the post in early January, he also said the ministry had been eavesdropping on him and his family.
His Instagram account was later deleted.
The torture claim sparked a controversy in Iran, where officials from members of parliament to high-ranking judicial figures promising a full investigation.
Enquiries by parliament, the judiciary and the intelligence ministry found that Bakhshi had not been tortured.
Iran saw multiple strikes and protests last year over working conditions in key sectors including steel, education, mining and transport.
The Haft Tapeh protests ended in late December, with the workers being paid and the factory re-opening.
In November, the head of Iran’s judiciary warned restive workers against creating “disorder.”
Mizan Online quoted Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani as saying: “workers should not allow their demands to become an excuse and an instrument for the enemy.”


Family backs Tlaib’s decision not to visit Israel

Updated 18 August 2019

Family backs Tlaib’s decision not to visit Israel

  • Israel said a humanitarian travel request by Tlaib would be considered as long as she promised not to promote a boycott against Israel

RAMALLAH: Relatives of a US congresswoman say they support her decision to decline Israel’s offer allowing her to visit them in the West Bank because the “right to travel should be provided to all without any conditions.”

Rashida Tlaib said she would not see her family, even after Israel lifted a ban on her entry, because the government had imposed restrictions on her trip.

“We totally understand her position and support her in her efforts. The right to travel should be provided to all without any conditions,” her uncle Bassam Tlaib told Arab News.

He was speaking from the family home in Beit Ur Al-Fuka, which is 3 km from the West Bank city of Ramallah, and was flanked by his elderly mother.

He said his niece had visited them many times in the past, but there had never been any conditions attached to her travel.

“She said we will meet when she can come without conditions,” Tlaib said. “One idea has been floated of flying the grandmother to the US or finding a way to have the two meetings in a third country. You know my mother is nearing 90 and it is not easy for her to travel but we are checking out all options.”

Tlaib, a Democrat, has criticized Israel’s policy toward Palestinians and had planned to make an official visit to the country.

Israel said a humanitarian travel request by Tlaib would be considered as long as she promised not to promote a boycott against Israel, local media reported.

But the congresswoman, who is Palestinian-American, lashed out on social media.

“I can’t allow the State of Israel to take away that light by humiliating me & use my love for my sity to bow down to their oppressive & racist policies,” she tweeted, using the word sity to refer to her grandmother. “Silencing me & treating me like a criminal is not what she wants for me. It would kill a piece of me. I have decided that visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in — fighting against racism, oppression & injustice.”

The NGO hosting and organizing the trip, Miftah, has been criticized by supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

Hanan Ashrawi, the NGO’s founder, said her staff had organized other congressional trips. “This was the third trip we have organized, and we try to do our work professionally and seriously,” Ashrawi told Arab News. “Our very mission is to promote global dialogue and democracy.”

Ashrawi said the attacks on Miftah were unwarranted.  “Miftah has been targeted with the expressed goal of trying to discredit us even though our record is clear. We believe that they are trying to keep organizing congressional delegations within the AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) monopoly, while we are trying to provide visitors with an opportunity to learn about Palestinian life under occupation and to understand the Palestinian narrative by providing opportunities for delegations to see and engage with Palestinians of all walks of life.” 

Ashrawi said Miftah had been “vetted” by the US Congress’ ethics committee. “We might not be able to bring hundreds of congress people like AIPAC, but we can bring a few and have them see, hear and interact with Palestinians.”

US President Donald Trump had called on Israel not to allow Tlaib and fellow congresswoman Ilhan Omar into Israel as admitting the two “would show great weakness.”

He tweeted that the pair “hate Israel and all Jewish people, and there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds. Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace.”