Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ahmadinejad cracks down on critics, as he lets Iran's cost of living soar


JAFAR PANAHI banned for twenty years

IRANIAN police have reportedly been out in force, ready to intimidate opposition and quash any disturbances, as the government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad withdraws subsidies from fuel and food
and lets prices soar.

The regime is continuing to jail trade unionists, and repress political and cultural critics. Internationally acclaimed film-maker Jafar Panahi who was detained earlier this year has been sentenced to six years in prison, and banned from directing and producing films for the next 20 years, his lawyer said.

The government's withdrawal of subsidies has seen fuel prices soar by 400 percent overnight. This in one the world's main oil producers!

Subsidies on a wide range of products are to be replaced by monthly cash payments of $40 per head, ostensibly targeted to those deemed most in need. The government has presented the plan as necessary to save the treasury up to $100 billion a year at a time when Iran's economy is under increasing strain from international sanctions imposed in response to its nuclear program.

But critics fear the cash payments system itself can be used to divide and weaken working people, and middle class liberal opposition, by making people dependent on state handouts, and discriminating against those considered the regime's opponents.

Jafar Panahi, whose films have poked fun at the Islamicist reaction and depicted Iranian society with realism, has openly supported the 'green' democratic opposition. At the same time his films have raised Iran's reputation internationally as a modern nation, and helped foreigners understand the Iranian people. He has been convicted of colluding in gathering and making propaganda against the regime, Farideh Gheyrat told the Iranian state news agency, ISNA.

"He is therefore sentenced to six years in prison and also he is banned for 20 years from making any films, writing any scripts, travelling abroad and also giving any interviews to the media including foreign and domestic news organisations," she said. Gheyrat said she would appeal against the conviction.

Panahi 's feature The White Balloon won the Camera d'Or at the Cannes film festival in 1995 , and he won the Golden Lion at Venice for his 2000 drama, The Circle. His other films include Crimson Gold and Offside, which was shown in Britain this year at fundraisers organised by Hands Off the People of Iran (HOPI).

Hamid Dabashi, a professor of Iranian studies at Columbia University, told the Guardian the sentence showed Iran's leaders could not tolerate the arts. "This is a catastrophe for Iran's cinema," he said. "Panahi is now exactly in the most creative phase of his life and by silencing him at this sensitive time, they are killing his art and talent.

Dabashi said: "What Iran is doing with the artists, is exactly similar to what Taliban did in Afghanistan. This is exactly like bombing Buddha statues by the Taliban, Iran is doing the same with its artists."

Panahi, 49, was arrested in July 2009 after joining in mourning for protesters killed after the disputed presidential election. He was soon released but denied permission to leave the country. In February 2010, he was arrested with his family and colleagues and taken to Tehran's Evin prison. Muhammad Rasoulof, one of the film-makers arrested at the same time, was also sentenced to six years in jail today.


Trade Unionists too

The TUC is joining international trade union federations and Amnesty International in demanding the release of Reza Shahabi, a member of the independent bus workers' union in Tehran, who has been waging a huger strike since December 4 in protest at his continued imprisonment. Shahabi agreed to take liquids after friends concerned for his health pleaded with him to curtail his strike.

Supporters of the Iranian trade union struggle say please email the Iranian Government.

Reza Shahabi is the treasurer of the independent and unrecognised trade union, Sherkat-e Vahed. He was arrested on 12 June 2010, three days after the arrest of Saeed Torabian, the union's spokesperson. Saeed Torabian has since been released but there are six other members of Sherkat-e Vahed (the Union of Workers of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company) in prison.

Gholamreza Gholamhosseini, Morteza Komsari and Ali Akbar Nazari have all been arrested since the beginning of November and we believe they are all prisoners of conscience, held solely on account of their peaceful trade union activities. Mansour Ossanloo, the head of the union and his deputy, Ebrahim Maddadi, are already serving prison sentences. They must be immediately and unconditionally released.

Please call on the Iranian authorities to release Reza Shahabi and all the other jailed trade unionists in Iran.

For more on repression of trade unionism in Iran, see the website of the International Trade Union Confederation and the website of Justice for Iranian Workers.

The TUC has written to the Iranian Ambassador in the UK protesting about the incarceration of these trade unionists.

H.E. Mr Rasoul Movahedian Attar
Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran
16 Prince's Gate
London SW7 1PT

Dear Ambassador

On behalf of the British trade union movement, and its 6.2 million members, I would be grateful if you could urge your Government to release the imprisoned trade unionbist Reza Shahabi, currently on hunger strike.

The TUC understands that Reza Shahabi is the treasurer of the independent and unrecognised trade union, Sherkat-e Vahed. He was arrested on 12 June 2010, three days after the arrest of Saeed Torabian, the union's spokesperson. Saeed Torabian has since been released but there are six other members of Sherkat-e Vahed (the Union of Workers of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company) in prison.

I would once again strongly urge your Government to abandon its vile repression of the bus workers trade unionists of Tehran and all other independent trade unionists in Iran. Iran can only benefit from the introduction of measures to guarantee respect for the basic norms of human and trade union rights.

Yours sincerely


General Secretary

The busworkers are just one of the unions coming into conflict with the Iranian government. Reza Rakshan, president of the union at the giant sugar cane growing and processing Haft Tapeh complex in the southern city of Shush, was sentenced to 6 months in prison on December 1 by the Court of Appeal in the city of Ahvaz. The charge was “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.”

The fired union members have all been expelled from their homes and are blacklisted from employment throughout the region. But workers have won improvements through 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 International Union of Food workers (IUF) affiliate.

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.

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