A prominent trade unionist in Iran has been released from detention after serving a one-year prison sentence. Independent labour activist, Mahmoud Salehi, one of the co-founders of the Bakery Workers’ Trade Union in Saqez, was released on bail on Sunday 6 April, according to reports.
Mahmoud Salehi has been the object of strong, unified international lobbying by international trade union and human rights’ organizations since 2007. Amnesty International has joined with the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) to launch a series of joint demonstrations and protests in front of Iranian embassies around the world.
Salehi was originally sentenced to four years’ imprisonment for organizing an independent workers rally in Saqez on International Labour Day, 1 May 2004. His sentence was reduced on appeal to one year’s imprisonment and a three-year suspended prison term.
He finally began serving the sentence on 9 April 2007 in Saqez, before being transferred to a high security prison in Sanandaj, capital of Kordestan Province. His state of health severely deteriorated while in jail, after prison authorities repeatedly denied him proper medical care for acute kidney failure and other serious ailments.
An international day of action on 6 March 2008 brought trade union and other activists into the street in 35 countries, demonstrating in support of both Salehi and Mansour Ossanlu (or Osanloo). Ossanlu is President of the Tehran bus drivers’ union and remains in detention at Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison.
One week later, the authorities levelled new charges against Salehi, who had originally been due for release on 23 March. Observers believe the new accustations were brought against him as a reaction to the day of action and in retaliation for solidarity messages that Salehi had managed to smuggle out of jail.
Since his release, Salehi has returned to Saqez, where he was met by family and friends. The ITUC, ITF and Amnesty International have welcomed news of Salehi’s release, but, in a joint statement, reminded Iran’s authorities that Ossanlu and other unjustly imprisoned trade unionists must be freed.