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Iran: Radio Farda -- Union Leader's Abduction Highlights Crackdown On Labor Protests

Police in Tehran at a workers' demonstration (file photo) (AFP) July 12, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Iranian authorities have admitted that a prominent Iranian Union leader who was abducted on July 10 is being held in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison.

Mansur Osanlu was pulled from a bus in Tehran two days ago by unidentified men who yelled at the passengers to stay away and called him a "thug." They then forced him into a car and drove away.

Eyewitnesses say Osanlu -- the director of the Syndicate Workers of the Tehran Bus Company -- was beaten severely and that his attackers continued to beat him after they stuffed him into the car.

In recent months dozens of workers and union activists who participated in protest actions have been harassed, detained, summoned to court, and even jailed.

MORE: Coverage in Persian from Radio Farda.

Sent To Evin

His family and friends had sought to find out where he was. But all the authorities they contacted denied they were holding him.

Ebrahim Madadi, the deputy director of Osanlu's union, spoke to Radio Farda shortly after the incident.

"In the continuation of our search we -- Osanlu's wife, brother, and me -- went to the Narmak police station and from there we went to the public safety police and to a revolutionary court on Moalem Street," Madadi said. "Unfortunately we didn't obtain any news [about Osanlu]."

The situation had led to growing concern about the fate of the union leader.

Finally, on July 12, an official from Evin prison informed Osanlu’s family that he is jailed there.

Osanlu’s wife told Radio Farda that officials admitted that her husband was being held in Evin only after she and her relatives gathered in front of the prison for several hours and insisted on being given information about his whereabouts.

She said: "Finally the guards made a phone call and sent me inside. I spoke to someone on the phone who told me ‘Osanlu is here.' I said 'how can I be sure?' He said: ’I am an official here you have to accept that he is here.’ I said 'can he speak to us for a minute?' The official said he is not allowed to have visits nor to make phone calls."

Even before that, many had believed that Osanlu was in the custody of Iranian authorities.

The International Transport Federation (ITF) said in a July 11 statement that given the past history of treatment of Osanlu -- he has repeatedly been arrested, prosecuted, and jailed since December 2005 for his union activities -- there is a strong reason to believe that an agency of the Iranian government is responsible for the abduction.

On July 12, ITF General-Secretary David Cockroft said that his organization will campaign with "renewed vigour" for Osanlu’s release.

The Paris-based Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders has also expressed its deep concern for the safety of Osanlu and said that it and fears that his abduction might be directly linked to his trade-union activities.

Abdolfatah Soltani is a member of Tehran's Center for Human Rights Defenders. He told Radio Farda that Osanlu's treatment is an example of growing state pressure on critics and student activists and workers.

"By creating fear [the authorities] want to prevent the activities and silence of all those who criticize their performance," Soltani said. "But we all know that it is not possible to destroy an idea by force, it is not possible to control all people by force."

Iranian labor leader Mansur Osanlu in London last month

In recent months dozens of workers and union activists who participated in protest actions have been harassed, detained, summoned to court, and even jailed.

Radio Farda reports that on July 10, 11 workers who had participated in a May 1 protest were put on trial by a court in Sanandaj, in Kurdistan Province.

Two more workers are due to be tried by the same court on July 14.

Meanwhile, the website of Iran's ILNA news agency -- which had been under government pressure because of its coverage of workers protests -- was blocked on July 11.

The move by the country's judiciary came after it allowed ILNA to resume operations following a weeklong suspension of the agency and the appointment of a new director.

An unnamed judge was quoted by Iranian media as saying the decision to block the website followed "many complaints."

(Radio Farda contributed to this report.)

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.