PARIS, 24 Dec. (IPS) In its first major social challenge and in continuation of the crackdown of all freedoms in Iran, the new Government under the Islamo-populist President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has arrested at least 14 members of the Single Bus Company of Tehran and Suburbs (SBCTS), informed sources reported on Saturday.
The order for the arrest, detention and seizure of all documents of the arrested men was issued by Judge Sa’id Mortazavi, the Prosecutor for Tehran and Islamic Revolution Tribunals.
The malaise started after leaders of the Union, while in a meeting, were suddenly attacked by plainclothes members of the Ansar Hezbollah and badly beaten up.
A protégé of Ayatollah Ali Khameneh’i, the leader of the Islamic Republic, Mr. Mortazavi is better known by the public, but specially the media as “The Butcher of the Press”, for having successfully shut down more than 120 independent and pro-reform publications during 1999 and 2000.
Though the authorities have remained silent, but Hojjatoleslam Mohseni Ezheh’i, the Intelligence Minister has confirmed that “some forces of public disturbance” have been arrested.
The arrests took place early morning on Thursday 22 December by agents from the Office of the Prosecutor accompanied by plainclothes policemen. “The agents raided our house very early in the morning, presenting warrants from the Prosecutor, took away my husband, searched the house and took away all his documents and computer”, the wife of one of the arrested men told a Farsi-language radio station based outside Iran.
The crackdown follows months of disturbances in the SBCTS, where drivers and the personnel is asking for better work conditions and increase of their salaries, freezed since at least four years while prices for everything in Iran has raised by more than ten times, particularly housing rents and basic food.
The malaise started after leaders of the Union, while in a meeting, were suddenly attacked by plainclothes members of the Ansar Hezbollah and badly beaten up, injuring some of the participants and going as far as cutting the tongue of one of them”, informed sources told IPS. “The Government took no action, when it heard about the attack and instead of ordering investigation, ordered the arrest of the SBCTS’s leaders”, he added.
Ansar Hezbollah is a pressure group controlled by Ayatollah Ali Jannati, an influential cleric close to the leader and the Secretary of the powerful Council of the Guardians.
Drivers, controllers and other personnel of the Company have threatened the Government they would start an indefinite strike from Sunday morning if the leaders of their Union are not freed “immediately and without conditions”.
The call for unlimited strike has been immediately backed by several other unions, including major car industries and miners of gold and copper mines.
If the strike takes place, and if it is backed by other workers unions, it would not only paralyse Tehran and its suburbs, one of the world’s largest megapols with 12 millions inhabitants, but would constitute the most important social challenge the Government of Mr. Ahmadinejad would face, analysts said.
But the Government says the SBCTS’s union is not an authorized force because it is not officially registered with the Labour Ministry and has accused the Company’s Union of “formation of an illegal organization and disturbance of public order by the way of strike”, which if officially allowed on the paper, is considered as an “anti-Islamic action” by the clerical-led regime of the Islamic Republic.
According to Mr. Sa’id Torabian, one of the Union’s leaders, at least 14 members of the Company have been detained*. “This is what we know, but it is probable that more people are arrested”, he told Radio Farda, the 24 hours Persian service of the Prague-based Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty.
“Strike is labourer’s natural right. For months, we are trying to explain our problems to the authorities. We have talked to most of them, including one of the President’s advisors, but never got any answer to our demands”, Mr. Torabian said, adding that several of the detained people are even not members of the Union’s Executive Committee, “but simple members of the Union involved of informing the people, distributing our communiqués and petitions”.
If the strike takes place, and if it is backed by other workers unions, it would constitute the most important social challenge for Ahmadinejad.
In a communiqué issued by the Union of Iranian Writers confirms the way the arrests took place, revealing that the detained people had been “dragged off their beds in the most brutal humiliating way, some beaten up and taken to prisons controlled by the Information (Intelligence) Ministry”.
Created under the past regime, the Company runs a fleet of more than a thousands buses, most of them ageing and in very poor conditions, a major source of air pollution in the Capital.
“The way the arrests were carried out shows that the Government of Mr. Ahmadinejad, the very one that had promised justice and help to the poor, is determined to abolish the SBTCS’s Union, one of the oldest and most powerful of all Unions in Iran”, a journalist told Iran Press Service on condition of anonymity, adding that on order from the authorities, the media had been banned to report the event.
Since he came to power more than four months ago, Mr. Ahmadinejad, who describes himself an adept of Ayatollah Khameneh’i, has left no stone unturned to clamp limited social, cultural and political freedoms Iranians enjoyed under the previous government of Mohammad Khatami – who is the target of frequent vicious attacks from the pro-Ahmadinejad press --.
At home, internet cafes have been shut, more segregation between men and women imposed, Western music banned on public Radio and TV, movies with so-called, producing and screening of films with “liberal, secular and feminist tendencies” forbidden while on the international front, Mr. Ahmadninejad has taken a more radical line with regard with the controversial nuclear activities, outraged the Western world with its promises of “wiping Israel off the world’s map”, negating the holocaust and describing Western human rights as “debauchery”. ENDS SBCTS LEADERS ARRESTED 241205
*The arrested unionists are: Mansour Osalou, Ebrahim Madadi, Mansour Hayat-Qeybi, Abbas Nazhand Koudaki, RezaTarazi, Ali Zadhoseyn and Qlamreza Mirza’i. Others are: Akbar Ya’qoubi, Reza Bour Bour, Hamid Reza Reza’i Far, Javad Kefayati, Seyyed Javad Seyyedvand and Morteza Kamsari