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Iran protests: HEPCO workers demonstrate in front of Arak Central Prison

Dozens of HEPCO workers' protest in front of Arak prison, demanding the release of their co-workers. (File photo)
Dozens of HEPCO workers' protest in front of Arak prison, demanding the release of their co-workers. (File photo)

Analysis by PMOI/MEK

Iran, September 20, 2019—On Thursday, a group of workers from Iran’s HEPCO company gathered in front of Arak Central Prison and demanded the release of their co-workers. On Monday, the Iranian regime’s security forces cracked down on the protests of the workers, injuring dozens of people and arresting 28 of the protesters.

While local authorities denied any violent treatment of the protesters, pictures and videos posted on social media showed the brutal behavior of the Iranian regime’s repressive forces toward the workers of HEPCO.

On Tuesday, despite the heavy presence of security forces, more than 1,300 of the workers of HEPCO resumed their protests in front of the company’s headquarters. The workers have been demonstrating over the conditions of the factory for several days. The workers started their new round of demonstrations after the government failed to respond to their demands for more than 10 days. Their demands include payment of overdue wages and clarification of shareholders’ status.

According to state-run media, regime authorities have set a 250,000-toman bail for the release of four of the detained workers. Ironically, these workers have been protesting because they haven’t received their wages for months, which means the bail will further put a strain on them and their families.

In the past years, the workers of HEPCO have been regularly protesting and striking over the poor management of the company and unpaid wages. The Iranian regime’s response has been to neglect their demands or to crack down on their protests. In November 2018, an Iranian court sentenced 15 workers of HEPCO to one year in prison and 74 lashes because they had protested to their working conditions.

HEPCO is one of several important Iranian companies that have fallen victim to the privatization policy, which kickstarted in 2006 under the decree of the regime’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei in 2006. Under Khamenei’s order, government-owned assets and companies were sold to private owners, most of whom are regime insiders or have very close ties to senior regime officials. In most cases, the companies were sold at a fraction of their real price and were later liquidated to fill the pockets of their new owners.

HEPCO was sold to a private owner at a very low price in 2008. Since then, it has been on a constant decline. HEPCO’s production capacity has dwindled to under 20 percent and some parts of the factory have completely shut down. Some of the workers have overdue wages that date back to more than three years.

Ali Ebrahimi, a member of the regime’s Majlis (parliament) recently acknowledged, “The person who had purchased HEPCO is not qualified to manage the company. Let’s not forget that the market for HEPCO’s products has declined as well. In the current state, the company has no production.”

Earlier this month, Ali Ashraf Abdollah Pouri Hosseini, the former head of the Privatization Organization, revealed that former regime officials used their political clout to import second-hand Chinese machinery at low prices and without paying customs, and later sold them in the market. The practice destroyed HEPCO’s share of the domestic market. Pour Hosseini himself is currently in jail on charges of embezzlement and fraud and for using the Privatization Organization to sell government assets to himself at very low prices.

In a video that has been widely circulated on social media, one of the HEPCO workers who was injured on Monday’s crackdown says, “As a HEPCO worker, I declare that in the past five years, we tried all the peaceful ways to pursue our demands. But the result has been a bunch of lies by the authorities and a very small loan to pay a fraction of our overdue wages.”

HEPCO workers are one of the many Iranian labor communities protesting over unpaid salaries.