WASHINGTON - Multiple sources say a jailed Iranian labor union leader has had his five-year prison term extended for another year by Iran’s appellate court in retaliation for his pursuit of peaceful activism while in detention.
One source, who is close to jailed activist Jafar Azimzadeh, told VOA Persian in a Monday interview that the court upheld his new 13-month sentence in an August 1 ruling and informed him about it on the same day. A lower Revolutionary Court had issued the sentence June 8, convicting Azimzadeh of spreading anti-government “propaganda” from inside Tehran’s Evin prison.
Azimzadeh has been held at Evin since January 29, 2019, when he was rearrested to serve the remainder of a five-year prison term imposed on him by Iranian courts in 2015. He had begun serving that sentence at the same prison on November 8, 2015, and later secured an early release on June 30, 2016, after enduring a two-month hunger strike to protest his detention.
Azimzadeh is a leading member of the Free Union of Iranian Workers, a group that formed in 2006 without government approval and advocates for better wages for workers.
The group has said Iranian authorities filed the anti-government propaganda charge against Azimzadeh to punish him for several peaceful acts of protest at Evin last year. Those include his signing of a November letter with other dissidents highlighting the lack of medical treatment for sick prisoners in Iran, his recording of an audio message denouncing the arrests of labor activists who joined a May Day rally outside the Iranian parliament, and his criticism of the sentencing of workers demanding unpaid wages at Iran’s Haft-Tapeh Sugar Cane Company.
The FIUW responded to the apparent upholding of Azimzadeh’s additional 13-month prison sentence with a Sunday statement on its Telegram channel, calling it a cruel move aimed at suppressing demands for workers’ rights. It said Azimzadeh has not committed any crime by defending the demands of Iranian workers.
There has been no mention of the Iranian appellate court’s decision in Iranian state media.
Azimzadeh received his initial five-year prison sentence for the offenses of spreading anti-government “propaganda” and “assembly and collusion against national security through organizing and operating an illegal group.”
Days before the Iranian appellate court approved the extension of his prison term, Azimzadeh was assaulted in Evin prison by two fellow inmates, according an Instagram post by his wife Akram Rahimpour.
Rahimpour wrote that her husband was assaulted on the morning of July 26 by an accused drug trafficker who had no prior history of confrontation with him. She said Azimzadeh was assaulted again that afternoon in the prison yard by another detainee who appeared high on drugs and also had not shown animosity toward him before.
Rahimpour said prison authorities took no action against either of the alleged assailants, leaving Azimzadeh in danger. VOA could not independently verify the details of the alleged incidents.
Iranian prosecutors summoned Rahimpour to Tehran’s Revolutionary Court on May 20 to question her about interviews she had given to news outlets regarding her husband.
In a July 29 statement, Dublin-based human rights group Front Line Defenders said it was seriously concerned about the two reported prison assaults on Azimzadeh and Iran’s practice of detaining rights activists alongside dangerous prisoners convicted of serious crimes.
It also expressed deep concern about what it called Iran’s judicial harassment of Azimzadeh’s wife and its refusal to grant him a temporary release to reduce his risk of contracting the coronavirus in prison.
Front Line Defenders reported the upholding of Azimzadeh's new 13-month prison term in a follow-up statement on August 7, without specifying its source for the information.