Intelligence Ministry Denies Labor Activists Qoliyan and Bakhshi Medical Treatment

Detainees Remain in Custody of Same Agency They Had Accused of Committing Torture

Labor activist Esmail Bakhshi and freelance reporter Sepideh Qoliyan are being denied medical treatment in the Intelligence Ministry’s detention center in the Iranian city of Shush, Khuzestan Province, according to the Telegram app channel of the Haft Tappeh sugar mill workers’ union.

“My client is under such intense pressure that he lost consciousness in front of his family during a visit today [February 24, 2019], and for a moment they thought he had died but fortunately he regained consciousness,” attorney Farzaneh Zilabi told the union.

The union reported that Qoliyan, who is currently in solitary confinement, is also being denied crucial treatment:

“Her condition has become so bad that she needs to be quickly taken to a medical center. But the prosecutor and the Intelligence Ministry authorities in Shush are keeping her in solitary confinement in order to put more pressure on her and her family. They are putting her under the maximum amount of physical and mental pressure while she is sick and weak.”

Political prisoners in Iran are singled out for harsh treatment, which often includes denial of medical care.

Zilabi also criticized the judiciary for allowing the two detainees to be in the custody of the Intelligence Ministry when they had accused its agents of torturing Bakhshi.   

“What kind of judicial independence is this when the person who has filed a complaint against Intelligence Ministry agents is being held by the people he is complaining about?” said Ziladi. 

Bakhshi, a Haft Tappeh worker and union representative, and Qoliyan, also a peaceful advocate of workers’ rights in Iran, were initially arrested on November 18, 2018, and detained for roughly a month in an Intelligence Ministry-run detention center in Ahvaz.

Independent unions are not allowed to operate in Iran, strikers often lose their jobs and risk arrest, and labor leaders who attempt to organize workers and bargain collectively are prosecuted under national security charges and sentenced to long prison sentences.

After they were released on bail, they both stated that Bakhshi had been tortured and posted statements online that were later confirmed by eyewitnesses.

Qoliyan collaborated Bakhshi’s statements made via Instagram by tweeting on January 9: “During Esmail Bakhshi’s arrest, I witnessed him being brutally beaten and when he was interrogated I saw him being humiliated. On several occasions I saw him forced into insulting himself. I’m ready to give testimony about myself and Esmail Bakhshi in any fair trial.”

On January 20, two weeks after the publication of their social media statements, Bakhshi and Qoliyan were rearrested by agents of the Intelligence Ministry.

Their families have meanwhile been pressured by intelligence agents to refrain from speaking publicly about their cases or face prosecution.

On January 22, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) called on the Iranian authorities to release Bakhshi and Qoliyan, ensure their protection, and re-open an independent and impartial investigation into their alleged torture.

CHRI has also called on all relevant UN human rights bodies as well as EU countries with which Iran maintains relations to take coordinated action to call for the activists’ immediate release and demand a full and impartial investigation into their alleged torture.

On February 11, the Haft Tappeh workers’ union called on individuals and international organizations to demand Bakhshi and Qoliyan’s release.

“We are aware that in the past few days, and at the time of their arrest, they were asked to lie and confess against their will in front of a camera that torture was never carried out and that the whole story was dictated to them by so-called adversaries and anti-revolutionary media outlets,” said the union in a post on Telegram.

“We are aware that they are under intense pressure to express remorse and write statements against themselves,” it added.