Iran: Farzaneh Zilabi sentenced to one year in prison

BACKGROUND

On 7 October 2021, I wrote a letter with other UN experts to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran concerning the sentencing of woman human rights defender and lawyer Ms. Farzaneh Zilabi, who was sentenced to one year in prison and a two-year travel ban on the charge of “propaganda activities against the state.”

Ms. Farzaneh Zilabi is a woman human rights defender and lawyer. She has represented the Syndicate of Workers of Haft Tappeh Cane Sugar Company (SWHTCSC) in Shush, Khuzestan .

Concerns regarding undue restrictions of the activities of the labor unions of Haft Tappeh Cane Sugar Company and their members, as well as arrests of their lawyers, have been raised in several communications by Special Procedures mandate holders, including most recently in IRN 12/2021.

This is a shorter version of the original communication. The High Council for Human Rights in Iran has responded to the communication, contesting the basis for the sentencing, however it has regrettably not provided information on how her conviction for “propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran”, “collaborating with an unlawful group” and “dissemination of false information” is in line with international human rights law.

Read the full communication Read the Government's response

ALLEGATIONS

Ms. Zilabi has been representing the Syndicate of Workers of Haft Tappeh Cane Sugar Company (SWHTCSC). The SWHTCSC is a trade union established in 1974 for the workers of the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Agro-Industrial Complex. Initially a state-owned company, the Complex was privatized in 2015.

The syndicate has organized a number of strikes, most recently in August 2021, against the unpaid wages of employees and against alleged corruption by management. Ms. Zilabi has represented a number of individual labour rights defenders and has been outspoken about allegations of torture reported by her clients. Ms. Zilabi also defended several workers prosecuted for participating in the strikes.

On 8 May 2021, the Supreme Audit Court of Iran ruled to deprivatize the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Agro-Industrial Company, and to return its ownership to the State. As a consequence, the company was returned to the State. On 13 May 2021, the SWHTCSC issued a statement, which stressed that this achievement was only possible due to the perseverance of the defence team, including Ms. Farzaneh Zilabi.

On 16 May 2021, Ms. Zilabi was summoned by the Ahvaz Central and the Revolution Court on charges of “propaganda against the state” and “gathering and collusion to act against national security”, allegedly due to her work as a legal representative for labour rights defenders. On 16 May 2021, she was released on surety and given a preliminary order of a ban of six months from practicing law.

On 13 September 2021, it was reported that Ms. Zilabi had been sentenced by Branch 2 of the Ahvaz Revolution Court to one year in prison and to a two-year travel ban, on the charge of “propaganda activities against the state”. Ms. Zilabi has been acquitted of the charge of “gathering and collusion against national security”, and the preliminary order of a ban of six months from practicing law.

CONCERNS

In the communication, we expressed our concerns at the sentencing of Ms. Farzaneh Zilabi in connection with her legitimate work in defence of human rights. We were also concerned that the judicial harassment of Ms. Zilabi occurred in the context of pressure and charges against the workers of Haft Tappeh. We found the apparent attempts to crack down on protests and legitimate labour rights-related work by prosecuting their lawyers deeply concerning. And we expressed further concern that “national security” is being invoked as a pretext to justify such limitations on Ms. Farzaneh Zilabi’s legitimate work in the defence of human rights.

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