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Iranian Activist Jailed, Allegedly Beaten, After Complaining Of Forced Confession

Iranian labor activist Sepideh Qolian says her confession to working with foreign-based activists against the government.

Iranian activist Sepideh Qolian has been detained along with her brother after she spoke out on social media about being mistreated and forced to make a false confession following a previous arrest in the western province of Khuzestan.

Qolian's father, Khodarahm Qolian, told RFE/RL on January 22 that his children were beaten and taken away by security officers two days before, and that he didn't know their current whereabouts.

According to the father, nearly a dozen officers arrived at his home early on January 20. He said they severely beat Sepideh Qolian and her brother, Mehdi, before throwing them into a vehicle.

"I asked them repeatedly to show me [an arrest warrant] but they told me, 'It's none of your business,'" Khodarahm Qolian said. "They also beat me and my wife."

Sepideh Qolian was arrested in November for participating in protests by workers at the Haft Tapeh sugarcane mill in the Khuzestan Province city of Shush.

Factory workers and supporters staged daily protests outside local government headquarters in Shush demanding unpaid wages and the removal of the factory's new private owners, whom they accused of criminal activity.

Qolian was among 20 people, including activists, protest organizers, and workers, who were detained on November 18 during the authorities' clampdown on the rallies.

Most of the detainees were released on bond the following day. Qolian spent a month in prison in Khuzestan's provincial capital, Ahvaz.

On January 19, state TV aired a program claiming that Qolian and an organizer of the Shush protests, Esmail Bakhshi, were linked to Western-based activists who sought to overthrow the government in Tehran.

The program showed Qolian and Bakhshi making "confessions" about their alleged cooperation with the activists, who were allegedly based in several European countries.

Shortly after the program was aired, Qolian said on social media that the confessions were false and obtained under duress while in custody.

Iranian media reported that Bakhshi was detained at his home on January 20, just hours after Qolian's and her brother's arrest.

Bakhshi has also claimed that he was tortured during his first detention in November.

Qolian's and Bakhshi's arrests in November were widely condemned by activists and Iranian government critics and generated the hashtags #FreeSepidehGholian and #FreeEsmailBakhshi on social media.

Qolian's father said that when she was released from detention in December, the authorities threatened that they would "burn her to ashes" if she spoke out.

Written by Farangis Najibullah with an interview by Roozbeh Bolhari of RFE/RL's Radio Farda