Thursday, February 28, 2008

Industrial Relations: Condemnation of floggings of labor activists

Labor rights activists and prominent human rights figures have condemned the lashing sentences that have been handed down in recent weeks to 11 workers in the Iranian province of Kurdistan.

So far, four workers and labor activists -- Sedigh Amjadi, Latifollah Kalakani, and Fars Gavalian and Sedigh Hosseini -- have been lashed by authorities for disrupting public order and participating in an unauthorized gathering.

The three are among 11 other activists who were arrested by security forces during last year's May Day celebrations in Sanandaj.

The detainees were each sentenced to 10 lashes and 91 days in prison for their demonstration on May 1, 2007. Two of the workers were sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison, a verdict that was later reviewed by Kurdistan Province's appeals court and changed to 10 lashes, and a fine of 200,000 tumans (about $200).

Khaled Savari, the head of the National Union of Dismissed and Unemployed Workers, has also been sentenced to 10 lashes. "What crime have we committed? Have we broken any doors or windows? Have we set a car on fire? The only thing we did was to complain about our wages and other workers' issues in front of the employment office," Savari tells Radio Farda. "That's all we did."

Worker Tayyeb Molaie was also sentenced to 10 lashes. He also denounced the sentence as unfair, and added that the sentences come amid growing state and economic pressure on workers and their families. He asks whether "a worker who has reached the point of helplessness -- in which he cannot support himself or his family, and asks for some kind of improvement on Labor Day -- be punished with lashes?"

In the past two years, state pressure on workers has increased and a number of them have been detained, imprisoned, and intimidated. But the lashing sentences are unprecedented.

Shirin Ebadi, the head of the Tehran-based Center for Defenders of Human Rights and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, tells Radio Farda that the sentences are very alarming.

"A long time ago, the world reached the conclusion that the purpose of punishment is to correct a criminal's behavior and not to take revenge on the individual by enforcing physical punishment on him," Ebadi says. "Therefore, all physical punishments such as lashings, stonings, and hand amputations are strictly forbidden according to the International Convention Against Torture."

Meanwhile, the National Union of Dismissed and Unemployed Workers, who organized the May Day celebrations in Sanandaj, has denounced the sentences as inhumane and sent a formal complaint to the International Labor Organization.

The sentences have also been criticized by two parliament deputies, Soheila Jolodarzadeh and Mohammad Ali Moghnian, who have called for a special committee to be created to investigate the matter.

Ebrahim Madadi, the deputy head of the Tehran bus drivers' union, was quoted by the "Dastranj" website as saying that the sentences against the workers are an attempt by officials to enforce order and obedience in society. Madadi, who was himself released from prison a few months ago, said that the enforcement of these verdicts has caused surprise and concern.

Detained worker Molaie says that the enforcement of the lashing sentences is a clear contradiction between the government's slogans and its actions. He says he has repeatedly heard the government proclaim "equality and brotherhood" and claim that there is no oppression in Iran. But he says these lashing sentences against workers are "sad proof" that the Iranian government's actions contradict its slogans.

Several Iranian websites, including, a website dedicated to workers' issues, have reported that the carrying out of the verdicts has angered a lot of people in Kurdistan.

"Workers at the Shahoo factory have firmly announced they will all gather in front of the Sanandaj courthouse to declare that if [I] receive lashes, they would want to punished the same way," convicted activist Savari tells Radio Farda.

It is not clear when Savari will receive his punishment.

By Roozbeh Bolhari: Activists Condemn Workers' Lashing Sentences
Copyright (c) 2008. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036