As readers of this web site will be aware from previous reports, on May Day of this year in Saghez (Iran) Mahmood Salehi, Jalal Hosseini, Mohsen Hakimi, Borhan Divangar, Esmaeil Khodkam, Hadi Abdi, Mohammad Abdi, all worker activists involved in the defence of workers’ rights, were arrested. After going on a hunger strike, and also after an international campaign of protest they were released on bail. Their trials were due to commence on September 23. But, as we reported in a previous statement of the Workers’ Action Committee (Iran) and the Iranian Workers’ Solidarity Network (in exile) on the day the trials were supposed to start, suddenly excuses were found to delay them.
When Mahmoud Salehi, the first worker to be summoned to court on September 23, turned up with his two lawyers (Mr Mohamd Sharif and Mrs Mahshid Mahdood) he was forced to wait for a while only to be later told that the judge was on “leave”, (on holiday!), and the trial was not taking place that day. How on earth a judge could forget such an important trial was scheduled is anyone’s guess. They were then sent to the Public Prosecutor’s office, where Mr Goodini (the Prosecutor) shouted out that he had nothing to do with the case and walked out!
Two more workers were summoned for September 27 and 29. The latest we know is that when the first of these, Esamil Khodkaam, turned up in court, he also discovered that his trial had been postponed without any explanation!
Prior to all this, on September 20, an international campaign of pickets outside the Iranian embassies and consulates was organised. The Iranian Embassies had never experienced such a thing. The pickets were organised by local representatives of the trade unions and student unions. This made the Iranian authorities aware of the fact that the plight of the Saghez workers was being followed around the world by workers and youth.
Previously of course there had been pickets of the IRI (Islamic Republic of Iran) embassies organised by exile Iranians – which the Iranian authorities simply dismissed as some irrelevant opposition to the regime or even as “paid agents” of other states! This time they could not do this. During the pickets long lists of signatures to protest letters were handed in. Among the signatures were leading national trade unionists, members of Parliament, and many, many shop stewards, trade union activists and youth.
In the past hey had received petitions from many groups, collected by Iranians in exile. And again, they would ignore these. But this was the first time that they had seen workers, trade unionists and youth from the countries where the embassies are based turning up to organise a picket.
The reaction of the embassy officials to the pickets was different in every country. This shows that they are most confused. In Italy they pretended to show sympathy towards the pickets. In Pakistan they even offered tea to the workers and trade union leaders who turned up at their gates, while in Mexico City they physically attacked one of the comrades. These inconsistencies show the level of confusion of the embassy officials.
In the past workers involved in protests would simply have “disappeared”. They would have been brutally treated and that would have been the end of the story. But this time things are different. The regime is trying to establish good relations with the West. They are trying to attract investment that they desperately need. Several member states of the European Union have declared Iran a “safe” country. By that they mean there is no need for Iranians to apply for asylum!
The other day a programme on the BBC World Service showed Jack Straw having a private meeting with an Iranian delegation to the UN (a very friendly encounter indeed). So the regime is now very concerned about public opinion in the West (unlike the previous period when did not care about such things).
As the result of this situation they have postponed the trials of the Saghez worker activists without any explanation. What we must stress is that this is the first time such a thing has happened. The international solidarity has had an effect.
The regime is most probably thinking that it would be better to delay all the trials until things quieten down. They probably hope that the campaign will fizzle out, and when no one is paying any attention they will resume the trials and try and give these workers “a lesson.” We must not allow this to happen.
Already we have had reports of supporters of the campaign following up the pickets with phone calls and letters demanding to know what is being done about the Saghez workers. One example is Milan, where they telephoned the Iranian Consulate. The secretary said they had sent everything to Tehran, but so far had had no reply. The supporters of the solidarity campaign pointed out to the officials of the consulate that they would continue to take up this issue until the seven are freed.
This should be followed up in all those countries where pickets were organised. They must be made aware of the fact that workers around the world are not going to forget the Saghez workers. The Iranian authorities are used to working in the dark, where no one can see their brutal methods. We will not allow them to get away with it this time.
We must prepare for the next round if they start the trials again. We will keep our readers informed of the latest developments and we call on you to be prepared to mobilise once again.