Workers of the world unite

Two weeks ago I wrote of Tehran Bus Workers’ Union treasurer Reza Shahabi, eight days into a dry hunger strike (nil by mouth) at Evin Prison. Shahabi’s demand for basic rights for he and his fellow workers in the first instance and for justice with regards to his arrest and imprisonment for this very fight in the second, lasted 16 days. He ended his hunger strike on 19 December following calls from workers unions worldwide who sent statements in his support including one from the TUC “On behalf of the British trade union movement, and its 6.2m members”.

Reza Shahabi now sends a New Year message of thanks from his prison ward:

To workers and workers’ organisations throughout the world!

On the occasion of the coming New Year 2011, I would like to extend my congratulations to my beloved co-workers and fellow-workers throughout the world.

While my fellow workers and I have been incarcerated for our advocacy of workers’ rights in Iran, and our demands for the creation of independent workers’ organisations in Iran, many workers’ organisations throughout the world have rallied in our support, and have condemned the treatment we have received in jail.

While I was on hunger strike, I received a multitude of support from workers and their organisations throughout the world. I would like to acknowledge and thank each of you for your messages of solidarity.

I hope that through our solidarity we shall be able to overcome all obstacles in achieving our goals of justice, freedom and equality, and through our daily efforts transcend capitalism and achieve what rightly belongs to us.

I wish for a day when all of us will be able to live a decent and humane life, without any wars or violence.

Finally I wish you all a happy New Year, full of success, health and unity.

I warmly shake all your hands

Reza Shahabi

Incarcerated Worker

Ward 209, Evin Prison, Tehran

26, December 26 2010 (5 Dey, 1389)

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.