In December 2019
|Known for||2018–2019 Iranian general strikes and protests|
On November 18, 2018, Sepideh Qolian, who had previously worked with several publications as a citizen journalist, was reporting on a labor protest organized by the Workers Union of Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Agro Industrial Company (Persian: شرکت نیشکر هفتتپه), when she was arrested by the Iranian security forces. Union spokesman Esmail Bakhshi and a dozen other trade unionists were also arrested during the protest. All of those arrested, except Qolian and Bakhshi, were released within days. Qolian and Bakhshi were held without charge or legal representation for 30 days and were eventually released on bail.
On November 29, 2018, while Qolian and Bakhshi were still detained, The Vahed Syndicate, a trade union representing over 17,000 transit workers, revealed in a statement that Esmail Bakhshi had been briefly hospitalized due to torture he had suffered while in government custody. Immediately upon release, Qolian confirmed that both she and Bakhshi had been subjected to torture by the security forces. Following their release on bail, Bakhshi and Qolian gave Amnesty International an account of the torture they suffered while in custody of police and ministry of intelligence officials in the cities of Shush and Ahvaz. They told Amnesty that they had been beaten, slammed against walls, shoved to the ground, humiliated with flogging, and threatened with sexual assault and murder. Qolian stated that during her daily interrogation sessions, which started around 10am and lasted until the early hours of the following morning, intelligence officials repeatedly subjected her to sexual insults such as "whore”, accused her of having sexual relationships with workers, and threatened to make sure that her family would receive information that would make them murder Sepideh for "honor". This revelation led to immense public backlash, especially on Iranian social media. In response to public outrage various Iranian state organizations issued denials of Qolian's accusations and characterized her and Bakhshi as instruments of foreign interest.
On January 19, 2019 the Iranian state television broadcast what it claimed to be a documentary showing that Qolian, Bakhshi, and other activists have connections to the Trump administration, communist groups and other Iranians in diaspora who pursue overthrowing of the Iranian regime. The broadcast, recorded during their detention, contained videos of a visibly distraught Qolian and Bakhshi confessing to their crimes against the state. Qolian responded on Twitter that this broadcast is by itself further proof of torture. Farzaneh Zilabi, Bakhshi's attorney, described the broadcast of statements obtained from her client under duress as a violation of the law. “Broadcasting of this documentary is unjustifiable and unacceptable. Now that the confidential information in this fake case have been made public through a deceptive, selective and unfair documentary, Mr. Bakhshi demands a public and transparent trial.” According to Zilabi, the broadcast was a violation of Article 96 of Iran's Criminal Procedures Regulations, which prohibits and criminalizes to reveal the identity and images of suspects before conviction.
Qolian and Bakhshi were arrested again on January 20, 2019. According to Amnesty International, the timing of their arrest strongly suggests it is an attempt to silence and punish them for speaking out about the abuse they suffered in custody. In a phone interview, Qolian's father told a reporter: "At 7 in the morning, 12 male and 2 female officers violently raided my home, broke my son's teeth, assaulted me and my wife, and told us they'd kill our daughter."
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- Lipin, Michael (January 28, 2019). "Britain-based Transport Union Urges Iran to Free Detained Labor Activists". VOA. Retrieved 2019-01-30.
- "Amnesty Criticizes Iran's Mass Arrests as US Frees Reporter". The New York Times. 2019-01-24. Retrieved 2019-01-28.
- "Labour rights activists punished for speaking out on torture". www.amnesty.org. Retrieved 2019-01-22.
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- "خبرگزاری صدا و سیما on Instagram: "مستند #طراحی_سوخته مستند کامل در igtv #خبرگزاری_صداوسيما @iribnews.ir"". Instagram. Retrieved 2019-09-23.
- "Iran: Prominent Labor Activist Rearrested". Human Rights Watch. 2019-01-24. Retrieved 2019-09-23.
- "Iran: Release Labor Activists Re-Arrested For Revealing They'd Been Tortured". Center for Human Rights in Iran. 2019-01-22. Retrieved 2019-01-22.
- BBC Persian, Sepideh Gholian speaking before re-arrest (Special BBC), retrieved 2019-01-30
- "Iran: Prominent Labor Activist Rearrested". Human Rights Watch. 2019-01-24. Retrieved 2019-01-28.
- "Iran arrests Ahwazi activist allegedly tortured in prison". Middle East Monitor. 2019-01-21. Retrieved 2019-01-22.
- "Iran arrests labour protest leader". France 24. 2019-01-21. Retrieved 2019-01-21.
- Alinejad, Massih (January 20, 2019). "Peyke Iran". پیک ایران. Retrieved January 20, 2019.
- "Iran TV broadcasts activists' forced confessions, re-arrests them". Iran News Wire. 2019-01-20. Retrieved 2019-01-30.
- "Former Supporter Says Khamenei Behind Mistreatment Of Detainees". RFE/RL. Retrieved 2019-01-22.