Shackled in Iran: trade unionist, journalist and film maker need our support
FIRST arrested five years ago for leading Tehran bus workers' fight for decent pay and conditions, Mansour Osanloo was released after an international campaign, and allowed to leave for an international transport workers' conference. But after he returned, as soon as it judged the fuss had died down, the Iranian regime had him arrested again.
Clinging to office after disputed elections, and hugging the spotlight by appearing to defy Washington with his nuclear policy and backing for Middle East militancy, President Ahmadinejad has simultaneously kept to the guidance of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamanei, in his policy of suppressing workers' rights and independent organisation, privatising the economy, and keeping down pay and welfare costs to please the IMF.
Mansoor Osanloo remains in jail, despite reportedly suffering multiple illnesses, including eye and heart conditions, back trouble requiring surgery, and skin trouble. So on Tuesday, April 13, when the Tehran bus drivers' leader had to be taken before the coroner’s medical commission, the prison officers were not taking any chances. They made him wear handcuffs and shackles. These were tightened during the trip to hospital, so that Osanloo arrived with his ankles bleeding.
The medical examination had been requested by doctors concerned whether Mansoor is really fit to serve his prison sentence. Three times now the coroner has declared him medically unfit. The recommendation has been communicated to the Revolutionary Court, the Enforcements unit, as well as Rajai-Shah prison officials. The law requires that prisoners who are declared medically unfit to serve prison sentences be released to undergo treatment in medical facilities outside prison.
Not only has this trade unionist been denied medical treatment, but he has also been subjected to long periods in solitary confinement. Then at the beginning of March after coming out of solitary he was attacked by a fellow-prisoner armed with a knife. The assailant turned out to be a former Revolutionary Guard in jail for murdering his wife.
Osanloo is currently detained in Ward 5, known as the addicts’ ward, where most inmates are addicts and many suffer from contagious diseases such as HIV or hepatitis.
During their dispute five years ago the Tehran bus workers just refused to collect fares. In continuing to hold this workers' leader as a supposed "threat to the security of the state" are the Iranian authorities hoping he will die in jail, or do they simply figure that his incarceration and ill-treatment will serve as a deterrent to other workers from daring to organise?
Jailing the messenger
Osanloo was originally sentenced to five years, but an Iranian journalist who reported on workers' struggles has reportedly received a sentence more than twice that for communicating with international media. The mother of Iranian journalist and human rights activist Abolfazl Abedini says he has been sentenced to 11 years in jail.
Abedini, aged 28, had been detained several times by security forces in the last five years. He was arrested on March 3 in the southwestern city of Ahvaz after his home was raided. His family said he was beaten by members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps as he was taken away. His family learned later that he had been found guilty of "spreading propaganda against the regime through interviews with foreign media."
Eyvazi said she recently wrote an open letter to judiciary chief Sadeq Larijani demanding justice for her son, but had received no reply. "What crime has my son committed that he deserves to be tortured?" Eyvazi wrote in her letter to Larijani. "Is it a crime to defend the rights of workers at the Haft Tapeh Sugarcane Factory, Tehran bus company workers, or the Iranian Teachers Syndicate?"
...and the film maker
Meanwhile, there is no news about another communicator, and a celebrated one, arrested over a month ago, film maker Jafar Panahi. His films include The Circle (winner of the Golden Lion prize at the Vienna film festival in 2000) and Offside (2006), about young women detained when they tried to get in to watch the World Cup qualifying soccer match between Iran and Bahrain. Panahi has still not been charged with any crime. Twice offered bail, he has refused out of solidarity with all those incarcerated for taking part in the mass demonstrations against the regime that shook Iran since June 2009.
His detention is just the latest harassment Jafar Panahi has suffered from the clerics' regime. He has been unable to travel abroad since wearing a green scarf – the colour adopted by the democratic opposition movement – at the Montreal Film Festival in 2009. He was also arrested briefly after attending the memorial service for student Neda Agha Soltan, who was murdered by regime forces during a demonstration. Earlier the ministry of culture and Islamic guidance had announced he would not be allowed to make another film until he ‘re-edited’ earlier films, and he was unable to work for a year.
There is a clear theme of social criticism in his work. In a 2007 interview with the LA Times, Panahi described himself as “a socially committed filmmaker” who operates in the context of a brutally oppressive society: “My movies are about limitations and restrictions, and these are restrictions that I’ve personally experienced.” However, those are minor relative to “the greater restrictions that Iranian women are suffering”, he said.
The prison authorities are piling on the pressure. His wife, Tahereh Saeedi, was only allowed to meet him on March 31 – almost a month after his arrest. She reports that his interrogators continually cover the same ground: “They keep asking him the same questions in order to find contradictions in his comments,” Saeedi revealed in a radio interview.
Hands Off the People of Iran (HOPI), the solidarity movement set up by left-wing Iranian refugees and their supporters in Britain to oppose both the Islamicist regime and the threat of imperialist war, is putting Jafar Panahi's release at the centre of its campaign for the freedom of political prisoners in Iran. Moshé Machover, a member of the HOPI steering committee, says: “Jafar Panahi has taken a brave stance. He stands shoulder to shoulder with those brave participants in the mass movement of opposition to the theocratic regime that have been arrested. Now we must stand shoulder to shoulder with him.”
Machover continued: “Our most effective act of solidarity with the inspiring movement for radical change that has filled Iran’s streets is to ensure that imperialism does not launch another disastrous military adventure in the Middle East, this time against an Iran which is pregnant with radical, genuinely democratic change from below”.
Left-wing Labour MP John McDonnell, a supporter of HOPI, said: “The world must make its voice heard in demanding that Jafar Panahi is released without charge along with all those incarcerated for nothing more than demanding basic civil liberties and democratic rights. These violations of basic human rights must not be allowed to go unnoticed and without protest.”
HOPI is urging people to:
* Send emails, faxes and letters of protest to the embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran, 16 Prince’s Gate, London SW7 1PT; firstname.lastname@example.org; 020 7589 4440. Don’t forget to send us a copy.
* Sign our statement ‘Freedeom for Jafar Panahi and all political prisoners’: http://hopoi.org/?p=1163
* Put on showings of Panahi’s films: The wounded head (1988), Kish (1991), The last exam (1992), The circle (2000), Crimson gold (2003) and above all Offside (2006). We have been given official permission to show his films, so we can help you to get hold get a copy of the film and DVDs to sell. We can also provide a speaker to introduce the film
* Order Hopi’s ‘Free Panahi’ postcards. Get people to sign the cards and return them to us asap – we will forward them to his family in Iran to show our solidarity. We ask for a donation of £5 or more for 30 cards to cover postage and printing costs.
* Order the A4 bulletin we have produced to highlight Panahi’s case (as well as the ongoing threat of a military attack and increased sanctions). We ask for a donation of £5 or more for 30 bulletins to cover postage and printing costs
*Get your trade union branch/organisation to sponsor this important campaign.
* Financially support the campaign: please use the Paypal button on our home page www.hopoi.org or send cheque/s to Hopi, PO Box 54631, London N16 8YE
I hear HOPI is planning to show one of Jafar Panahi's films in London next month, and hoping for some celebrity guests. Any profit from the showing will go to help political prisoners and the workers' movement in Iran. I will keep readers posted.