Labor activist Esmail Bakhshi challenged Iran’s Minister of Intelligence to a live televised debate over the use of physical and psychological torture in prison.
The outspoken Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Factory labor representative was detained on November 18 on the 14th day of the sugarcane workers’ strike and was released on bail on December 12.
Esmail Bakhshi is known for his passionate speeches during the workers’ weeks long strike action.
He addressed Iran’s Intelligence Minister, Mahmoud Alavi, in his Instagram post which included a picture of himself, demanding to know why he was tortured “to the brink of death”.
“In the 25 days that I was unjustly detained by the Ministry of Intelligence, I went through such immense pain that I’m still suffering and I have turned to neurological drugs to ease the pain,” he wrote in his Instagram post.
“I have two fundamental questions that have completely boggled my mind and you are the only one who can answer them. This is my right and that of Iran’s honorable people to know the answer to these questions,” Esmail Bakhshi wrote.
“First of all, I was tortured to the brink of death without any reason in the first few days. I could not move for 72 hours in my cell due to the battering. The unbearable pain made sleeping impossible. Two months after that terrible day, I still have pain in my broken ribs, kidneys, left ear and testicles,” the labor activist said shedding light on the tortures in prison.
The labor activist also detailed the use psychological torture against himself and a female photographer detained along with the workers for taking pictures of their strike, and called the mental torture worse than the physical torture. He said that he and Sepideh Qelian were attacked with abusive sexual language while being beaten.
“What was interesting was that the torturers, who called themselves the soldiers of the Imam (revered leader of Shiites), attacked me and Ms. Qelian with abusive sexual profanity while beating us. The psychological torture was much worse than the physical torture. I don’t know what they did that my hands still shake. The ground used to shake under my feet but they degraded me and changed my personality while in prison. Despite my medication, I still sometimes suffer severe psychological attacks,” he added.
“I now pose this question to you as the Minister of Intelligence who is also a religious cleric: From a moral, human rights and especially an Islamic point of view, what is the sentence for torturing a prisoner? Is it permissible? If so, to what extent?”
Esmail Bakhshi also accused the government of tapping his phone before his arrest and listening in on his private conversations.
“The second issue that is far more important to me and my family than the physical and mental tortures is that your intelligence apparatus listened in on me and my family’s telephone conversations. My interrogator told me that he knew everything about me including arguments with my wife over my labor rights activities. I asked them how they knew and they said that my phone was tapped from long before which severely angered me in the interrogations,” the labor activist wrote.
“Is listening in on the people’s most private conversations morally, humanely and Islamically permissible? With what right did your intelligence apparatus listen to the most private telephone conversations of me and my dear wife?” he demanded addressing the Minister of Intelligence.
In late December, a relative of Mr. Bakhshi had said that the labor activist was severely tortured in prison.
Iranian officials have denied the use of torture against Esamil Bakhshi and other labor activists.
The Revolutionary Guards affiliated Fars News Agency wrote today that a judicial official had talked to Mr. Bakhshi days after his release and that the labor activist had denied the “rumors” on social media that he was tortured.
In an interview with the ILNA state-run news agency today, an Iranian parliamentarian and member of the parliament’s Judicial Commission said that Bakhshi’s claims had to be “proven” adding that “torture is banned in our constitution”.
“The claim is an accusation against the country’s authorities and has to definitely be seen to,” Mohammad Kazemi added in comments that seemed more like a threat.
What is obvious is that the government is concerned about the Mr. Bakhshi’s recent disclosure and is desperate to deny that the regime systematically tortures political prisoners including laborers demanding their unpaid wages at a time when 80% of Iranians live under the line of poverty.
Iran’s Labor Code does not grant citizens the right to form independent unions, despite Iran’s ratification of the UN’s International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and membership in the International Labor Organization.
Workers are regularly threatened, detained, tortured and even sentenced to flogging, despite their legitimate demands and protests to current conditions which has robbed them of more than 80% of their purchasing power.