Release Ossanlou

Andeesheh Nicko and Roja Bamdad of Iranian Workers Bulletin call for solidarity action to free the kidnapped union leader

Iranian Workers Bulletin: www.iranianworkersbulletin.org

p>The campaign to free prominent Iranian union activist Mansour Ossanlou must be stepped up.


Ossanlou, a leader of the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company (Sherkate Vahed), was severely beaten and then kidnapped in Tehran on July 10 by unknown assailants believed to be acting on the behest of the security services.

Eye witness reports claim Ossanlou was pounced upon by a group of men in plain clothes, who had been tailing the activist in an unmarked, grey metallic Peugeot throughout the day. He had been making his way home on the bus after leading an important union meeting when the attack took place.

The assailants cautioned bystanders to not intervene, warning them that Ossanlou was a "thief" and a "thug" as they proceeded to brutally beat the 48-year-old. They bundled Ossanlou into an awaiting car which was subsequently driven away to a secret location.

The attempts by his wife to enquire into the whereabouts of her husband at the local police station were rebuffed by the deputy information officer. He refused to verify whether an arrest had taken place and on whose, and instead remarked that Ossanlou was a spy working on the orders of foreign powers.

Ossanlou has not been seen since his abduction and despite the communications that were made to the relevant authoritative bodies; no indication was provided as to where he was being held. All flatly denied that he was in their custody until the afternoon of July 12, when officials finally admitted that Ossanlou is being held in the notorious Evin prison in Tehran.

It is interesting to note that a similar attempt was made by unidentified agents on May Day. This attempt was only thwarted due to the intervention of passers-by and union colleagues who helped free Ossanlou from the clutches of his assailants. The kidnapping conveniently took place only a short while before annual conference of Sherkate Vahed busworkers.

The past few months have witnessed a new wave of repression against labour activists in Iran. The iron fist of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's administration has grown increasingly intolerant towards workers mobilising against poor pay and dire working and living conditions.

This year's May Day demonstrations, coupled with the ongoing teacher's strike, have shaken the establishment, but instead of dialogue the government has resorted to brute force as a means of combating this widespread discontent.

Mahmoud Salehi, the leader of the Bakery Workers Association of Saquez, has become a victim of this backlash. He is currently being denied urgently required medical attention whilst also being denied access to his lawyer. Furthermore, Sheys Amani and Sediq Karami of the Dismissed and Unemployed National Workers Union have only just been released on bail (set at 50 million tomans, or $54,000) after spending 42 days in prison.

Mansour Ossanlou himself has been the prime target of state intimidation ever since he led the union's struggle for independence in May 2005. The price he paid was seven months in prison, held without charge, when he was subjected to torture, beatings, psychological abuse and intimidation, as well as almost four months in solitary confinement. In November 2006, Ossanlou was once again violently arrested and beaten by plain clothes security officers and detained in Evin prison for a month.

The latest saga in the ongoing case of Ossanlou has drawn widespread international support. The International Transport Workers Federation and International Trade Union Confederation reacted promptly to bring pressure on the Iranian government, writing a joint protest letter to Ahmadinejad, requesting International Labour Organisation assistance and pledging to mobilise trade unions internationally to expose the Iranian government if Ossanlou is not freed immediately.

The eyes of the international trade union movement are focused on Iran. No scratch or bruise on Ossanlou's body will go unnoticed or pass without condemnation. Given the treatment Ossanlou has received at the hands of the Iranian authorities in the past, there is a genuine risk he will face physical and psychological torture and possibly even death.

We call on all supporters of the Iranian workers' movement and anyone who believes in the defence of democratic rights to stand by Mansour Ossanlou and declare their support and solidarity. We call on readers to get in contact with their trade union representative, MP or any other influential body to press for the release of Ossanlou.

The history of the 'islamic' republic is plagued with the blood of activists, writers, academics, workers and countless more innocents who have paid with their lives - their only so-called crime being to dare to speak out against injustice and oppression.

Silence is no longer an option.