Wednesday, 29 June 2016
Iranian trade unionist Jafar Azimzadeh, the Chair of the Free Union of Workers of Iran, lost consciousness on 27 June following a two-month-long hunger strike. He has been hospitalized since 18 June due to his deteriorating health, but is at risk of being returned to Tehran’s Evin Prison, where his life may be at risk. He is a prisoner of conscience.
Iranian trade unionist and prisoner of conscience Jafar Azimzadeh, a welder and the Chair of the Free Union of Workers of Iran, has lost consciousness several times since his transfer to Sina Hospital in Tehran on 18 June from Evin Prison, where he is serving a six-year prison term in connection with his peaceful trade union activities. His health deteriorated after he started an indefinite hunger strike on 29 April, in advance of International Workers' Day on 1 May. He began the hunger strike in protest at the arrest and conviction of himself and other trade unionists and teachers on trumped-up national security-related charges; the repression of trade unionists’ peaceful assemblies and strikes; the ban on independently organized events for International Workers' Day and World Teachers’ Day; and the continuing existence of wages that fall below the poverty line. Jafar Azimzadeh is refusing food and medication in hospital but has allowed doctors to administer intravenous fluids to him. In addition to losing consciousness, he is experiencing heart palpitations, intestinal bleeding and kidney, bladder and urinary problems; his hearing and eyesight have become impaired, and he feels dizzy and has trouble walking. He is also experiencing numbness on the left side of his body. The Prosecutor General of Tehran has dismissed his family’s pleas for help, saying that he will not do anything even if it means that Jafar Azimzadeh will die. This is despite a letter from the Legal Medicine Organization of Iran (a state forensic body) declaring that Jafar Azimzadeh should be released on medical leave.
Jafar Azimzadeh was first arrested on 30 April 2014. Ministry of Intelligence officials held him for 46 days without access to his lawyer or family, in Section 209 of Evin Prison, before releasing him on bail. He was sentenced in March 2015 to six years in prison after an unfair trial before a Revolutionary Court in Tehran, which convicted him of “gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security” and “spreading propaganda against the system”. He also received a two-year ban on “membership in political and social parties, groups or collectives” and “engagement in online space, media and press”. He began serving his sentence on 8 November 2015.
Prior to starting a hunger strike, Jafar Azimzadeh, along with another trade union activist, Ismail Abdi, wrote an open letter in April 2016 stating their intention to go on hunger strike on International Workers’ Day on 1 May to protest the authorities’ repressive responses to trade unionists’ activities and protests. The men demanded that the authorities drop the charge of “gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security” and other national security charges in their cases. In their letter, they said: “according to the evidence used to issue the verdicts against us, you could say that any efforts… to improve the lives and livelihood of teachers and workers in Iran are considered acts against national security”.
Jafar Azimzadeh is the Chair of the Free Union of Workers of Iran and one of the co-ordinators of the 40,000-signature campaign seeking a rise in the national minimum wage. Prior to his arrest on 30 April 2014, on the eve of International Workers' Day, along with numerous other trade unionists and workers, including teachers, he wrote several letters to the Ministry of Cooperatives, Labour and Social Welfare about the plight of workers and the growing crackdown on trade union activists. Since their letters received no replies, they sent a final letter to the Ministry, stating their intention to hold a peaceful gathering outside the Ministry building on International Workers' Day on 1 May 2014. Jafar Azimzadeh was subsequently arrested at his home in the early hours of 30 April 2014 and held incommunicado for 46 days in Section 209 of Evin Prison before being released on bail. In March 2015, while at liberty, he was convicted and sentenced by Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran based solely on his peaceful trade union activities, including: his work collecting 40,000 workers’ signatures on the petition for a rise in the national minimum wage; his interviews with media outlets based outside Iran; his involvement with founding the Free Union of Workers of Iran; his participation in the 2009 International Workers’ Day rally in Laleh Park in Tehran and other peaceful demonstrations in front of Parliament and the Ministry of Co-operatives, Labour and Social; and his meetings with other trade unionist groups, such as the Syndicate of the Workers of Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane Company and the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company, and the Co-ordinating Committee to Help Form Workers’ Organizations.
Jafar Azimzadeh appealed his conviction and sentence and his case was sent before Branch 54 of the Court of Appeal in Tehran. Around 27 October 2015, he received a short written summons from the Office for the Implementation of Sentences, which said that he needed to present himself to Evin Prison to begin serving his six-year sentence. Although he has never received a written confirmation, the summons indicates that the Court of Appeal has upheld his conviction and sentence. Jafar Azimzadeh began serving his prison sentence on the morning of 8 November 2015.
In an open letter to the Deputy Minister of Work Relations, Dr Seyed Hassan Hefdahtan, on 17 June 2016, Jafar Azimzadeh wrote that, in recent years, “most union activists have faced hefty criminal and political charges and long imprisonment sentences”. He continued: “Most of these activists have been arrested by the Ministry of Intelligence and all of them have been charged with ‘gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security’ and their cases have been referred to Revolutionary Courts with a demand for the highest punishments for them.” He noted in the letter that trade unionists have suffered this treatment for basic activities, such as associating with one another, helping out with gathering petition signatures, and holding peaceful gatherings in front of official buildings.
Article 22 (1) of the ICCPR states: “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his interests”. Article 8 of the ICESCR guarantees both “the right of everyone to form trade unions and join the trade union of his choice” and “the right of trade unions to function freely subject to no limitations other than those prescribed by law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public order or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”