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Mass Sentencing of Labour Activists and Journalists in Iran

Less than a year after workers’ rights activists in southwestern Iran publicized evidence that Intelligence Ministry agents had tortured detainees, those same activists and four independent journalists who covered their cases have been sentenced to prison terms up to 18 years. The sentences are part of the government’s heavy-handed response to more than two years of protests at the Haft Tappeh sugar mill in the city of Shush, Khuzestan Province, for unpaid wages and workers’ rights.

The following individuals were all convicted of “national security” charges for participating in or covering those demonstrations, according to a post by the Haft Tappeh workers’ Telegram channel on September 7, 2019:

Esmail Bakhshi, Haft Tappeh worker, union representative, 14 years in prison, 74 lashes

Sepideh Qoliyan, labour rights activist and freelance journalist, 18.6 years in prison

Amirhossein Mohammadifard, editor-in-chief of the independent Gam Telegram app news channel, 18 years in prison

Asal Mohammadi, Gam reporter, 18 years in prison

Sanaz Allahyari, Gam reporter, 18 years in prison

Amir Amirgholi, Gam reporter, 18 years in prison 

Mohammad Khonifar, Haft Tappeh worker, six years in prison

Peaceful Activism, Press Freedom Treated as National Security Crime

The seven defendants are currently imprisoned in Tehran’s Evin Prison. 

If the sentences are upheld on appeal, the defendants would each have to serve seven years in prison, and Khonifar five years, according to Article 134 of the Islamic Penal Code, which stipulates that only the lengthiest sentence must be served in cases involving multiple convictions.  

All seven were convicted of “assembly and collusion against national security,” “forming groups with the intention of disturbing national security” and “contacts with anti-state organizations.” 

Qoliyan and Bakhshi were also convicted of “disturbing public opinion” and “publishing falsehoods.”

According to Article 27 of Iran’s Constitution, “Public gatherings and marches may be freely held, provided arms are not carried and that they are not detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam.” But peaceful labour activism in Iran is treated as a national security offense; independent labour unions are not allowed to function, strikers are often fired and risk arrest and labour leaders are consistently prosecuted under catchall national security charges and sentenced to long prison terms.

Arrested for Demanding Unpaid Wages, Accusing Intelligence Ministry of Torture 

Qoliyan and Bakhshi were initially arrested on November 18, 2018, at a rally by Haft Tappeh workers in the city of Shush where workers have been protesting for unpaid wages since 2017. 

After they were released on bail a month later, they reported that agents of the Intelligence Ministry had tortured them while they were in their custody.

“During the first few days, without reason or any conversation, they tortured me and beat me with their fists and kicked me until I was going to die. They beat me so much I couldn’t move in my cell for 72 hours,” Bakhshi wrote on his now-suspended Instagram page on January 4, 2019.

His account was corroborated by other detainees including Qoliyan, who tweeted on January 9: “During Esmail Bakhshi’s arrest, I witnessed him being brutally beaten and when he was interrogated I saw him being humiliated…I’m ready to give testimony about myself and Esmail Bakhshi in any fair trial.”

Both Bakhshi and Qoliyan were subsequently re-arrested on January 20.


The journalists who covered their cases and Haft Tappeh protests by posting reports on the independent Gam Telegram app independent news channel were also arrested in January.


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