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
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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.”


Palestinian contractors set to gain from Israeli tech firm’s takeover

Updated 2 min 17 sec ago
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Palestinian contractors set to gain from Israeli tech firm’s takeover

  • The chipmaker offered stock options to more than 100 Palestinian engineers in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip

RAWABI, WEST BANK/TEL AVIV: Palestinian engineers working for Israeli chip designer Mellanox Technologies are poised to share a $3.5 million payout when the company’s takeover by US chip supplier Nvidia Corp. is completed.

Mellanox is one of a handful of Israeli firms that have begun to collaborate with the emerging Palestinian tech scene, bypassing the political conflict to tap a growing pool of engineers at costs they say are comparable to hiring from engineering expertise in India or Ukraine.

The chipmaker offered stock options to more than 100 Palestinian engineers in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip when it hired them as contractors, even though they are not permanent staff, as a shortage of engineers in Israel makes their skills highly sought after by multinationals.

Mellanox says its Palestinian designers and coders, outsourced through software firm ASAL Technologies, will now be able to exercise those options after Nvidia’s $6.8 billion takeover closes at the end of 2019, and stand to collectively earn as much as $3.5 million.

“We’re very proud they have equity, the same as all other employees in the company,” Mellanox Chief Executive Eyal Waldman told Reuters in an interview.

“Thirty, forty thousand dollars for an employee in the West Bank or in Gaza is a lot of money,” Waldman added, noting that unemployment there hovers at around 40 percent.

The median daily wage in the West Bank is $28 and just $11 in Gaza, according to the Palestine Economic Policy Research Institute.

ASAL CEO Murad Tahboub said 125 of his 350 employees work exclusively for Mellanox, which makes products that connect databases, servers and computers, and they were given options in a bid to reduce job hopping among workers.

“(Mellanox) saw value, they saw loyalty in the relationship,” Tahboub said in his office in a bustling high-tech center in Rawabi, the first Palestinian planned city in the West Bank. “The Israeli market provides an opportunity for the whole Palestinian high-tech sector.”

ASAL’s other clients include Microsoft, Intel and Cisco. Tahboub said his engineers designed 70 percent of Cortana, the virtual assistant created by Microsoft.

High-tech provides a unique opportunity for Palestinians, whose universities produced around 3,000 engineers in 2018, Tahboub said.

Still, Tahboub said Israeli restrictions — particularly curbs on the movement of goods and people in and out of the West Bank and Gaza — deter multinationals from investing in or outsourcing from the Palestinian territories.

“(Investors) avoid risk. Why should I invest in a startup in Palestine if I’m not sure if the owner of that startup can travel to the US?” Tahboub asked.

Those challenges are intimately felt in Gaza, whose economy has suffered from years of Israeli and Egyptian blockades. Economic cooperation between Israel and Gaza is mostly limited to merchants importing goods, including cement and petrol.

Both Mellanox and ASAL agree tech can be a major boost for Gaza, and they plan to increase their joint remote workforce in Gaza from 25 engineers currently.

Waldman hopes the two companies’ collaboration will help improve relations and reduce tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.

“The more positive friction there is between the two people the better it is for us, for the environment, for the Israelis, for the Palestinians,” Waldman said. “I think we can have an impact.”