Esmail Bakhshi, a leader of the Haft Tappeh sugar cane workers in Iran, and Sepideh Gholian, an activist who supported the workers’ dispute, have been released from jail.
They were sentenced in September – to 14 years and 18 years respectively — on all sorts of trumped up charges, including endangering “national security” and “the Islamic system”.
Because they put up resistance while in jail, Sepideh’s brother was arrested in January and Esmail’s mother in February! Then in August Sepideh’s defence lawyer was threatened with arrest.
Now they have temporary releases on the basis of eye-watering “bail” payments, with the money raised through putting up the deeds to houses and so on. Sepideh’s bail is 1.5 billion tomans (about £300,000) and Esmail’s 750 million tomans (about £150,000) Yet they could be back in jail at any time.
The temporary releases have been won by a combination of solidarity action and struggles by the Haft Tappeh workers themselves. The embassies and consulates of the regime have been picketed in many European countries. There have been letters, petitions, social media campaigns and so on by many exiled Iranian opposition groups and their supporters in the international labour movement.
Most importantly, the Haft Tappeh workers have not given up. On 24 October, the 32nd day of their latest strike, their demands were:
• the release of Esmail Bakhshi and Mohammad Khanifar, and all charges against them and all Haft Tappeh supporters to be dropped
• All of their fired workmates to be reinstated and the three remaining workmates be released
• Privatisation to be revoked, the company to be taken over by the state and supervised by independent representatives of the Haft Tappeh workers or the workers’ co-operative.
It should also be mentioned that protesting workers involved in other struggles can often be seen with placard bearing slogans like “Thieves go free, workers end up in jail!”
Privatisation often is the means through which asset-striping is done and other types of quick profits are made. Right now there are attempts to break-up the Haft Tappeh land, which includes huge plantations of sugar cane, and to sell it off.
The exact timing of the releases, therefore, might be due to possible conflicts within the regime and how its elite responds to these blatant violations. The fact that capitalists get away with colossal corruption – while workers are jailed and tortured over their basic demands – is now in the open.
Ebrahim Raisi, who has held various positions in the judiciary (including a high position during the execution of political prisoners in 1988), became the Chief Justice in March 2019. He has made a big show of fighting corruption, including corruption within the regime’s judiciary (e.g., declaring that 60 unnamed judges had taken bribes).
Still, these are basically token actions against some officials, and they are treated very leniently compared to workers and political activists.
Of the around 50 people arrested on May Day 2019 all – except Neda Naji – have now been released. To begin with she was in Evin Prison and then after being interrogated was transferred to Gharchak. Then after being beaten up there she was sent back to Evin. She has been in jail for nearly 190 days and her court hearing is on 13 November.
There also many teachers in jail, including Esmail Abdi, Mohammad Habibi and Mahmoud Beheshti Langeroudi.
In the past six months hundreds of labour and other types of activists have been summoned, arrested and jailed. In total their sentences include 1027 years in custody and 1500 lashes.
There are other strikes and protests being planned as the working class regains its confidence. For example, on Sunday 10 November pensioners from across the country will be demonstrating outside the Majles and the Planning and Budget Organisation.