Iran: Union activist denied bail despite hunger strike

Labour activist, Reza Shahabi remains in custody despite the payment of bail USD 100,000 by his family. Shahabi, who was detained on 12 June, was due to be released on 11 October but two months on he has still not been Evin prison.  In protest to his circumstances, he began a dry hunger strike on 4 December. In an interview with the International campaign for Human Rights in Iran, Shahabi’s wife, Zohreh Rezaei, has expressed grave concern for his well being.

The ultimate expression? Union member enters second week of dry hunger strike

No right to assembly or protest. As an independent trade unionist in Iran your actions are automatically illegitimate in the eyes of the state and for many carry a prison sentence. One such worker Reza Shahabi, treasurer of the Bus Workers’ Union has been in Tehran’s Evin prison since June 2010 and remains incarcerated in spite of his family’s payment of the 60m Tomans (USD 57,000) bail money demanded as condition of his release on 11 October.

Iran’s Bus Workers’ Union formed to fight for basic rights and working conditions, and to stand against common injustices among them unfair dismissal and unpaid wages. Shahabi upheld the values of this federation and his outcry now manifests itself as an ultimate and pivotal voice of the unheard as he enters the second week of a dry hunger strike (Day 1, Saturday 3 December).

The Declaration on Hunger Strikers (Declaration of Malta) defines a hunger striker as “a mentally competent person who has indicated that he has decided to embark on a hunger strike and has refused to take food and/or fluids or a significant interval.” Most hunger strikes involve an intake of water or other liquid, salt and sugar. Vitamins are also taken to protect against irreversible neurological damage and other critical damage upon the reintroduction of food to the body. Shahabi’s dry hunger strike rejects these precautions as to date he has had nil by mouth.

The medical ethics of hunger strikes remain intensely debated as are the individual’s right to strike, considered against the freedom and authenticity of this decision in a prison environment. The issue of the aims of the strike and their incompatibility with a legitimate state’s policies regarding operating a prison is also pertinent. These points are discussed in a paper entitled The physician and prison hunger strikes, published in 2004, examining prisoner hunger strikes in Turkey.

It is poignant that the Iranian government apparently reveres the actions of hunger strikers in far away lands, naming two streets after IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands — Winston Churchill Boulevard, the address of the British Embassy in Tehran, was renamed Bobby Sands Street, the state Fars news agency calling his death “heroic” — but refuses to heed the desperate actions of its own citizens.

To sign Amnesty International’s campaign for the freedom of Reza Shahabi and fellow unionists click here.