Human Rights, Solidarity with Refugees, Solidarity with Workers

ICRIR: Mohammad Ashrafi: Iranian Labour Leader, Asylum Seeker

Mohammad Ashrafi is an asylum seeker! Only a few months ago, he was a major figure behind a movement to establish free and independent labour organizations in Iran. Mohammad Ashrafi is a very well-known labour activist, but he was by no means alone in leading the Iranian labour movement towards organizing for a struggle that is unavoidable, and which therefore creates its leaders and dispatches them to the forefront of a life-and-death engagement against the extremely anti-labour Islamic regime. Ashrafi was not alone, and many of his colleagues are being detained, tortured, and – for the very same “crime” of being in the vanguard of the Iranian labour movement – sentenced to long-term imprisonment. Ashrafi was not alone, and he is not alone today, but he too, like many others, has paid a very high price.

Rendering asylum to those activists, labour or not, is the minimum demand of the international community made by Iranian people in their struggle against the world’s most violent, anti-labour, anti-woman, and, in one word, anti-human, regime. Mohammad Ashrafi – a labour activist, a gender equality advocate, a human rights warrior – is seeking asylum. Granting him asylum is not only a duty but an honour for the international community. Here, for those who still are not familiar with the everyday reality of Iran, we present Ashrafi’s case. The International Coalition for the Rights of Iranian Refugees (ICRIR) strongly recommends that the following be regarded as Mohammad Ashrafi’s portfolio in his UNHCR interview.

Although Iran is one of the oldest members of the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Islamic Republic refuses to recognize the rights of Iranian workers, including the right to form independent trade unions. The Islamic Republic routinely arrests and prosecutes workers demanding their most basic rights, including demands for wages that have gone unpaid sometimes for more than a year. The regime’s security forces attack workers’ peaceful gatherings, harass their families, and even open fire at mass protests, openly killing workers (for example, Khatoon Abad and Babak Shahr, among others). Assassination of labour activists is another common measure used by the Islamic regime since its inception to push workers back. It is notable that a number of labour activists currently prosecuted and sentenced to criminally inhumane punishments are charged with Moharebeh on grounds of arranging May Day festivities!

The Islamic regime’s assault on labor activists has increased since May 2008 and is on the rise. In November 2009, several Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane Company Trade Union activists were sentenced to immediate imprisonment and a 5-year bar from union activity. Mansour Osanlou (leader of the Union of Workers of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company), whose health is precarious due to beatings and torture by the regime, was transferred from Evin prison, where there is a ward for political prisoners, and into Rajaei Shahr prison, which houses violent criminals; he has since been subject to various attacks and has been moved into solitary confinement for protesting the 2011 New Years’ execution of Ali Saremi. Behnam Ebrahimzadeh, a beloved worker- and child-rights activist has recently been handed a deeply inhumane sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment because he demanded rights for those who work, and for the least powerful in any society: children.

The arrest, detention and torture of Iranian labour activists is happening in a context of a general refusal to pay a living wage to Iranian workers, as well as widespread refusal to pay any wages to workers at all. The labour conditions for many workers in Iran can rightfully be called slavery.

Mohammad Ashrafi is one of those workers’ rights activists who continued to demand that workers’ rights be recognized and upheld in Iran despite repeated arrests by the Islamic Republic for making these demands. Because Ashrafi is a member of the Committee to Establish Free Unions in Iran and is renowned for his work in the area of labour rights, the regime has targeted him as part of its increasingly aggressive crackdown on workers in Iran.

Regime forces arrested Ashrafi and other labor activists at a May Day celebration on May 1st 2009 in Laleh Park. His wife and sister were attacked and arrested, along with other workers’ family members protesting outside the court in Tehran, on June 2, 2009, as they were demanding freedom for the unjustly detained activists. He was released on bail on June 7, 2009. (reference)

Several months later, on Wednesday, February 10, 2010, security forces arrested Mohammad Ashrafi in his Tehran home at 4:00am. Again he was released on bail.

Then, on June 21, 2010, he was summoned by Interrogation Branch #3 of the Revolutionary Court. Given the prospect of enduring many years of torture, mistreatment, and imprisonment in the Islamic regime’s prisons, Ashrafi fled Iran to seek asylum. He was arrested and detained by Greek authorities and held in their prisons for about 4 months. When refugee advocacy organizations inquired about Ashrafi’s whereabouts with the Greek Ministry of the Interior, they were told there was no such person in the Greek prisons. In December 2010, Ashrafi was deported from the Greek prison to Turkey, and Turkish authorities took him to the Iraqi border in an effort to push him into Iraq. However, the Iraqi border patrol noticed that Ashrafi was not a Kurd, and refused him entry. Ashrafi was then taken to Ardnah Detention Center near Istanbul, where he remained illegally detained until at least January 8, 2011; he was released by January 13, 2011.

We are glad that Mohammad Ashrafi has been released from police detention. However, we must point out that due to his special case and background, due to the regime’s history of persecution and arrests of Ashrafi, and due to the open case pending against him for engaging in labour-related activism, should he be sent back to Iran there is no doubt that Ashrafi will be re-arrested by regime authorities, detained, and tortured.

The International Coalition for the Rights of Iranian Refugees expects the UNHCR in Turkey to urgently grant Mohammad Ashrafi asylum and any necessary protections required to secure his safety and well-being, and calls upon them to respond to the ICRIR as a matter of urgency concerning how they intend to expedite Mohammad’s case.

Members of the ICRIR include the International Federation for Iranian Refugees, the Iranian Refugee Action Network, the Iranian Refugee Amnesty Network, and Mission Free Iran.

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