Editor’s Note: Mahmoud Salehi is one of the most respected and well-known labor activists in Iran. As an activist in the Saqez bread unions and a central figure in May 1st organizing, he has been jailed many times for defending labor rights and the right to form independent syndicates. Mahmoud Salehi is also the spokesperson of the Committee to Defend Reza Shahabi.
To workers, freedom-loving and enlightened people, and labour organizations:
As you already know, Reza Shahabi, one of the workers of Tehran and Suburbs Vahed Bus Workers’ Syndicate, was arrested on the 12th of June, 2010 on the charge of defending workers and society’s disadvantaged. He has been detained in Evin Prison for the past two and a half years. According to Reza himself, interrogators severely tortured him when he arrived at the detention center; these tortures led to damage in the area of his neck. Upon medical diagnosis and doctor’s orders, Reza underwent surgery, and it was determined that post-surgery, Reza should stay in a calm and hygienic environment. But these days, pressures on the political prisoners have been greatly intensified – so intensified that Reza protested these pressures in an officially published letter written on 15th of December 2012. In two separate instances, Reza has informed us that he will begin a hunger strike, and in protest against the current situation, will avoid receiving any medical or health care services. Reza himself has said at the end of his letter that “I have chosen the second alternative at this time.” (Editor’s note: meaning that Reza is currently refusing medical care but not yet on hunger strike.)
Workers, freedom-loving people, and labour organizations!
These days, we witness the hunger strike by Nasrin Sotoudeh, and the hunger strike of hundreds of other political prisoners in Turkish prisons. We witness how the political prisoners, because of excessive pressures, put their lives on the line to challenge those who do not abide by any humane principles at all – to challenge those who, insensitive to the dangers to the lives of political prisoners who have avoided eating for more than 50 days, proudly and callously continue their comfortable lives. We have witnessed how prison authorities, with complete shamelessness, announce, “Let these prisoners lose their lives. It is not us who suggested that they go on hunger strike.” We people, in a not-too-distant future, will witness the irreparable consequences of a 50-day hunger strike carried out by these political prisoners, be they in Iranian or Turkish prisons. We will witness how these hunger-striking prisoners will develop a variety of illnesses that no physician can cure. This is while workers in Iran’s prisons – accused only of defending their own rights and the rights of the working class, accused of articulating their justified demands and grievances – are under torture and psychological and physical pressures.
Political prisoners, among them Reza Shahabi, Shahrokh Zamani, Mohammad Jarahi, and others, went on hunger strike in order to bring about changes in the current state of affairs in prisons. These prisoners want to tell us that enduring prison under such circumstances – in which bread to eat; clothes to wear; medicine for the sick; necessities like blankets, beds, sheets, and a place to lie down; hygienic articles; baths or warm water; and so on do not exist – is excruciating.
Those people, only for defending human dignity and respect, and only for expressing justified demands and grievances, have been subjected to the merciless wrath of the guardians of capital. And whenever they protest the current situation, they are directly transferred from one ward to another and from one city to another. In this way, the prison authorities try to put them and their families under psychological and economic pressure such that in some cases, they cannot even visit with their loved ones once a year.
Political prisoners, by going on hunger strike, want to achieve their demands and ameliorate their grievances – that is, to be treated humanely, or have their daily basic needs met. But in the country in which we live, the thing that is sold for the cheapest possible price, with its value decreasing on a daily basis, is the human life; especially if that human is in prison, charged on the basis of his or her beliefs.
At the moment, Shahrokh Zamani is held under the harshest and most inhumane treatment only for the crime of his labor activities. Reza Shahabi, despite his deteriorating health situation, is deprived of medicine and care, and the most elementary necessities and sanitation. Behnam Ebrahimzadeh, Mohammad Jarahi, Pedram Nasrollahi, and other imprisoned labor activists and political prisoners are also suffering under similar conditions. The most primitive of laws regarding the human rights of a political prisoner are ignored under capitalist rule.
I, as a worker and the spokesperson of the Committee to Defend Reza Shahabi, and as one who has spent many years in prison for the crime of defending the impoverished and the oppressed, feel each of the pains and agonies that Reza has described in his letter in my own flesh and bones, on my own skin. I fully comprehend why Reza Shahabi has made the decision and summoned the will to counter this injustice and fight this unequal battle. But the deterioration in his physical condition has put Reza Shahabi’s life and health under threat. There is no question that any danger to Reza Shahabi is the responsibility of the prison’s authorities and jailers.
Workers, honorable and freedom-loving people!
In any possible way, we must rise to defend Reza Shahabi and other political prisoners. We need to organize an international campaign throughout the world – a broad campaign in support of Reza Shahabi and other imprisoned activists – and by directing pressure, we must demand immediate and unconditional medical treatment of Reza Shahabi and other political and ordinary prisoners. It is certain that we workers will not remain silent in the face of cruelty and we will, with our unified class solidarity, defeat the offensive of the guardians of capital and their pressure on imprisoned labor activists.
27 Azar 1391
(17 December 2013)