An appeal to the international labor unions by an imprisoned Iranian civil activist

Afshin Osanloo is the brother of Mansour Osanlou, a leading trade union activist and a member of the board of directors of the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company [an independent union that has been campaigning vigorously for workers' rights in Iran]. Afshin Osanlou was arrested in the fall of 2009 and remains behind bars. In an open letter addressed to the International Workers’ Transport Federation (ITF) and the International Labor Organization (ILO) Osanlou speaks of the pain and suffering he has endured while behind bars. The content of the letter as provided to Kaleme is as follows:

My name is Afshin Osanlou. I am an Iranian labor activist and a transit and intercity bus driver currently behind bars at Rajai Shahr (Gohar Dasht) prison. I was arrested and transferred to the Intelligence Ministry’s ward known as Evin’s Ward 209  by armed plain clothes agents in the fall of 2009 while resting at a hostel assigned to drivers at the passengers terminal.  I endured interrogation and torture for a period of five months at the solitary confinement cells in Ward 209 of the Sanandaj Intelligence detention center.  The torture I was subjected to included: beating by cable to the souls of my feet, being forced to run with injured feet at a result of beatings by cable,  long interrogation sessions lasting for seventeen to eighteen hours, vulgar insults and extreme beatings by a group of interrogators leaving me with broken ribs and teeth. During my five months of harsh interrogation, my family had no news of me what so ever and their efforts to obtain any information regarding my condition were fruitless. I was even deprived of calling my mother, an old and ailing woman who had already suffered from the arrest and incarceration of her older son Mansour Osanlou.
I am married and have two boys. Shortly after forming a family I began working for a period of two years at the IRGC’s Khatam Alanbia Construction headquarters as a driver for heavy machinery for disadvantaged and war-torn provinces in the southern part of Iran including working on important projects such as the construction of the roads at Karkheh, Mahshahr port  and a water canal from Karkheh damn to Hamidiyeh in Ahvaz. I endured separation from my family because of the love for my country. After two years I was laid off along with other employees with temporary work permits.  In 1988 I was hired by the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company where I worked as a bus driver volunteering for twelve hour day and night shifts for some of the busiest routes.  During my four years at Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company in collaboration with my honorable and hardworking co-workers, I sought to  improve working conditions, pushed for the implementation of  more efficient management systems, spoke out against corruption by a large number of managers across a variety of branches and regions within the company, including the representatives of the Islamic Labor Council, followed up on unpaid bonuses and vouchers, ensured that the work performed by workers would be designated as difficult and hazardous and pushed for the elimination of temporary contracts for workers who had been employed for more than 4 to five years, to name a few.

Despite the fact that we were not always successful in achieving our goals, we were nevertheless a thorn in the eyes of greedy middle management, who sought to eliminate us at all means. We were continuously under pressure by management and often threatened to be laid off.  Unfortunately in 2001 while transferring a passenger on one of the bus lines I had an accident that led to the death of another driver.  At the time I asked the company’s management for support in paying the deceased’s  insurance claim, but the management and the deceased’s family colluded to increase the insurance claim from 12.000 USD to 14,000 USD. Since the increased amount was not covered by the insurance company, I was responsible to pay this amount out of pocket or risk imprisonment. My complaints to the department of labor went unanswered and in the end the company agreed to pay the difference with the caveat that I resign from my post.  My resignation resulted in four wasted years at the company and I was once again forced to start all over again after four years of hard work and determination. The stress of these events caused my family much harm and my wife who was pregnant at the time even developed a neurological disorder.  Following my resignation and until my arrest I worked as a bus driver for the transportation sector in the suburbs. Given that the fleet was privately owned, drivers lacked the benefits derived from the presence of strong and independent unions, but like many of my honorable and hardworking colleagues facing a myriad of problems, I too made ends meet. Often through dialogue and consultation with other drivers, we sought to improve our working conditions and our lives. I have always lived within the framework of the law and aspired to be a law abiding citizen.  I have been content and proud of my career. I have always sought to treat others with respect.  I feel a strong bond towards my country and my fellow compatriots and have spent my entire live serving my society with a goal to educate my sons to live by the same values.
Following a year of complete  limbo sate behind bars at wards 209 and 350, the 15th branch of the Revolutionary Court presided by Judge Salavati sentenced me on charges of colluding against the national security of the country.  I was deprived of a right to a lawyer during the entire judicial process and my trial lasted only a few minutes.  A week later I was sentenced to 5 years behind bars.  Despite appealing this sentence, my appeal was never reviewed by the appeals court and my family and I have never been informed of the status of my appeal to the appeals court.  I was sentenced to five years behind bars on baseless charges and have now served two years of my sentence. What exactly did I do against the national security of my country?  I was neither politically active, nor was I affiliated with any political group or entity. I was a civic activist and my activities were always within the framework of the law. The only crime I committed was demanding the legal rights of the workers.  The arrest and imprisonment of those who demand that workers’ rights be upheld will not make the problems disappear. Requirements such as the creation of an independent labor union designed to protect the legal rights of workers as per the regulations defined by the Department of Labor in the area of job security, better wages that are in line with inflation, ensuring that wages are fair and balanced and workers have access to benefits, pushing for permanent contracts between employers and employees, demanding that the state supports social insurance, oversight of the transportation sector, a sector that has undergone complete privatization, can no longer be avoided. There is also a need for oversight in the activities and behavior of our police and security forces within the Ministry of Roads & Transportation. If the union demands that are  based on our labor laws are adhere to we will not only avoid endangering our national security, but will also ensure further productivity, growth and economic expansion on a national level.  The only crime committed by myself and those who behaved as I did was bringing such matters to the forefront and discussing the challenges facing workers with our hardworking peers and a number of fleet managers sympathetic to the industry, our people and our country at large.
Having made my case public, I therefore ask the International Workers’ Transport Federation (ITF) and the International Labor Organization (ILO) to support the plight of their suffering colleagues in Iran, ensuring that their voices are heard across the globe. I ask that take our case be brought to the attention of international human rights organizations, demanding that they investigate the unacceptable condition of workers in the Iran’s transportation sector, including the issuance of unjust and illegal sentences imposed on workers such as myself. Let us create awareness amongst the workers across the globe and in particular the transportation sector so that the world at large becomes cognizant of the fact that the basic rights of hard working laborers in Iran continues to be utterly neglected and the slightest objection on our part toward such injustices has only resulted in imprisonment and torture and the persecution of ourselves and our family members.

With hope for a better future for all…
Afshin Osanlou
August 7th, 2012

Teanslation by: Banooye Sabz                            

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