UN, Human Rights and Union Activists
by IAN MORRISON
16 Feb 2010 17:47
Trade unions and human rights groups from more than fifty countries have been mobilizing support for Osanloo and the Vahed Syndicate since the Tehran bus workers re-established their union in June 2005. From its inception, the union has been under constant attack by the government. Its more active members have repeatedly been shuttled in and out of Iran's notorious prisons. Emerging around the time of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's first election victory, the Vahed Syndicate has come to be seen as an inspiring development in the face of Iran's increasingly difficult political situation.
Since the union's founding, Osanloo has been subjected to continual abuse. During an arrest in November 2006, he was thrown into an unmarked vehicle by plainclothes agents, bludgeoned, and strangled. He was detained under the obscure charge of "fomenting against national security." Yet, according to Osanloo and the Vahed Syndicate, the union's efforts were not in the least bit connected to "national security." Among their accomplishments, the union successfully pushed for a 30 percent pay raise, permanent status for contract workers, and provision of workers' uniforms by the company. The union also lobbied for child care allowances for women workers.
During a visit to Europe in 2007, Osanloo told the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) that the union represents some 17,000 bus workers, including 200 women. But this tally was taken before mass arrests. As the ITUC explains in its submission to the Periodic Review, when the union held a one-day strike in January 2006, "security forces arrested nearly a thousand members of the Syndicate, attacking some of their homes, beating their families, and even detain[ing] wives and children of the leading members." After returning from his short visit to Europe, in July, Osanloo was again kidnapped by security forces while riding a bus in Tehran. He was later charged with "threatening national security" and spreading "propaganda against the state." Osanloo has consistently rebutted the claim that his union activities have been directed in any way against the Islamic Republic, insisting that he is concerned only with the advancement of workers' rights and their pursuit of a better life.
Human rights groups report that Osanloo has been the victim of severe mistreatment during his current incarceration -- he has been denied medical care and subjected to physical abuse as extreme as having his tongue cut by interrogators. "The move to solitary confinement" says Mac Urata, "usually involves even worse conditions than normal, including reduced medical attention and food and, more worryingly, it can be accompanied by beatings or even torture." Osanloo's life is in jeopardy and his case does not appear to be unique. Amnesty International has alleged that at least 346 Iranian civilians were executed in 2008, and more than 318 in 2009. Since the June election crisis, another 100 people have received the death penalty.
"It is open to question" Mac Urata said, "whether this attempt to break Mansour's spirit has something to do with his trade union giving testimony to the UN today on offenses against human and labour rights in Iran. It is sure to be of great concern to the rally organized by 30 human rights and Iranian political organizations that is being held outside the UN offices in Geneva today."
Ian Morrison covers labor issues for Tehran Bureau.
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