Two Iranian labor rights activists who were rearrested after speaking out about beatings and other abuse in detention are at “grave risk of further torture,” Amnesty International warns.
Esmail Bakhshi and Sepideh Gholian were arrested on January 20 in Ahvaz, the capital of Khuzestan Province, in apparent reprisal for talking publicly about the torture they said they endured in detention late last year, the London-based human rights watchdog said on January 22.
“The timing of their arrest strongly suggests it is part of a sinister attempt to silence and punish them for speaking out about the horrific abuse they suffered in custody,” Philip Luther, research and advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, said in a statement.
Luther urged the authorities to release Bakhshi and Gholian immediately, and ensure their allegations of torture are independently investigated and that those responsible are brought to justice.
The two activists were first arrested on November 18 after participating in a rally in Shush, Khuzestan, and seeking to meet with officials to discuss the unpaid wages of workers at the Haft Tappeh sugar factory.
Following their release on bail in December, Bakhshi and Gholian described to Amnesty International the acts of torture they said they suffered at the hands of security officials.
“They said they had been relentlessly beaten, slammed against a wall and shoved to the ground, as well as being humiliated and threatened with flogging, sexual violence, and murder,” according to Amnesty.
The officials “tortured me until I thought I was going to die and beat me with their fists and kicks so much that I could not move in my cell for 72 hours,” Bakhshi wrote on his Instagram account in early January.
“Today, after nearly two months...I still feel pain in my broken ribs, kidneys, left ear, and testicles,” he added.
The posts provoked a public outcry, and officials from members of parliament to high-ranking judicial figures promised a full investigation into the allegations of torture raised by Bakhshi. Key state officials later claimed that the allegations were false.
On January 19, state television broadcast “confessions” that the two activists said were obtained under torture and other ill-treatment.
In the videos, Bakhshi and Gholian “confess” to colluding with groups outside Iran to orchestrate the overthrow of Iran’s political system.
Luther said the Iranian authorities should invite international monitors to carry out independent inspections of detention facilities instead of "locking up activists who speak out on torture."