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Wednesday, 13 November, 2019

Haft Tapeh Sugarcane Mill Workers sentenced to imprisonment and flogging

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Seven workers of the Haft Tapeh Sugarcane Mill in the oil-rich province of Khuzestan, southwest Iran, were each sentenced to eight months suspended prison sentence, and thirty lashes, the Haft Tapeh workers independent social media channel.

The workers who have not been identified were tried and sentenced by the 102nd Branch of the Shush Criminal Court on August 13, 2019.

Fourteen other workers of the factory also stood trial on Wednesday, August 14, reports say.

One of the charges brought against the workers is “disrupting public order by leading and being present in illegal gatherings and preventing the company’s activities”.

The Haft Tapeh Sugarcane Syndicate said that workers have been summoned for charges such as “publishing messages on the internet”.

At the court, the fourteen responded to their charges by demanding their two-months overdue wages, a solution to the problems related to labor contracts, and the implementation of a plan for jobs classification.

The Syndicate said that the workers are prosecuted for attending a one-hour protest gathering on May 9, to demand their rights.

Last November, workers of the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Mill held gatherings, streets marches and protests for more than 20 consecutive days over unpaid wages and other grievances such as the running of the company since it was privatized.

Instead of addressing the complaints of workers, however, the Iranian authorities have responded by arresting or summoning them. At least two have alleged torture and other ill-treatment in detention.

The right to strike is protected by Article 8 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which Iran is a party. The right to freedom of peaceful assembly is protected by Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is also a party. The right not to be subjected to torture or other inhumane and degrading treatment, as well as being protected by Article 7 of the same covenant, is considered a universally accepted principle of international law.

This is not the first time that the Iranian regime sentenced workers to prison terms and flogging for taking part in peaceful protests and strikes.

In October 2018, the state-run ILNA reported that a criminal court in Markazi province convicted 15 workers from the Heavy Equipment Production Company (HEPCO) on charges including “disrupting public order” and sentenced them to between one year and 30 months in prison and 74 lashes each for going on strike in protest at unpaid wages.

Founded half-a-century ago in the southern city of Shush, in Khuzestan Province, the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Mill is the oldest sugar factory in Iran. Some 5,600 workers are currently working at the company.

Since the privatization of the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Mill in a questionable 2015 privatization deal, the condition of workers has worsened. They have said that since the transfer of ownership to the present owners, the company’s debts have increased, with the employer only thinking of reducing the permanent workforce.

Accusing the government of supporting the wealthy, the workers complain they have become poorer while the managers of the company have become richer.

Trade unionist Jafar Azimzadeh, the leading member of the Free Union of Workers in Iran, described the workers’ condition as “slavery.”

“The families of some workers have to buy bread on credit, because of unpaid salaries and if this situation continues, even bakeries will refuse to sell bread to the workers on credit,” he said, explaining the plight of workers who have not received their wages for months.

Under such financial strain, some workers have even reached the point of committing suicide.

Ali Naghdi was the latest instance whose dead body was found afloat in a canal on February 27. It was said that Naghdi committed suicide due to his debts as the company refused to pay his wages.

Haft Tappeh workers have always had to fight for their wages, pensions and rights in the past years.

In mid-August 2018, 500 workers protested not being paid for at least three months. Reports indicate that riot police attacked the striking workers with tear gas and beat the protesters. Five workers were also detained but were later released after being charged with “disrupting order”.

This was not an isolated case of persecution against these workers. Iranian officials have in the past also responded with force, arresting leaders and members of the Haft Tappeh Workers’ Syndicate.

At least 100 workers of Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Mill have been summoned or detained only for speaking out and demanding their rights.

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