Union sympathizer is a foreign spy

Article Highlights

  • Independent labor unions first found their footing in the Islamic Republic in 2005. @MRubin1971

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  • For the regime, countering labor is a tricky business: It wants to intimidate unions, but avoid creating martyrs.

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  • Iranian gov. has relentlessly targeted union leadership to check their spread into more economically crucial areas.

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Editor's Note: FMSO’s Operational Environment Watch provides translated selections and analysis from a diverse range of foreign articles and other media that analysts and expert contributors believe will give military and security experts an added dimension to their critical thinking about the Operational Environment.

Source: “Afshin Osanlou Bazdasht shod” (“Afshin Osanlou Arrested,”) Ammariyon.ir. 26 July 2012. 

In May 2012, Operational Environment Watch discussed increasing labor discord in Iran. Independent labor unions first found their footing in the Islamic Republic in 2005, when Mansour Osanlou organized the Tehran regional bus drivers into an independent union outside the aegis of the Ministry of Labor. While trade unions in Iran have had some important triumphs over the last decade, notably among agricultural workers in southwestern Khuzistan, the government has relentlessly targeted their leadership to check their spread into more economically crucial areas, such as the oil industry. For the regime, however, countering labor is a tricky business: it wants to intimidate unions, but it also wishes to avoid the creation of martyrs around which labor supporters could rally.

It is in this context that the brief announcement of the arrest of his brother Afshin Osanlou is important. Labor leaders might become martyrs, but their immediate family members are less likely to. Reporting his arrest, the staunchly hardline news website Ammariyon.ir referred to the pattern of arrest and parole for Mansour Osanlou. This is par for the course: often the Iranian judiciary will pass harsh sentences but then parole those convicted. The sentence never goes away, and hangs like a sword of Damocles over the parolee’s head to discourage further political agitation.

The arrest of Afshin suggests that revolving door imprisonment has apparently not been enough to control Mansour Osanlou, and so the security services are now targeting his family in order to try to intimidate the labor organizer into silence.

Afshin’s name is relatively unknown because he is not an activist. That he spent time abroad is not surprising: many liberal Iranians—even regime supporters like Mehdi Hashemi, the son of former President ‘Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani—fled Iran in the wake of the 2009 crackdown and broader hardline consolidation of control. Many return regularly to test the water once tension has subsided. That Afshin was arrested at the airport suggests the anxiety that the regime feels toward the threat from organized labor and also reflects the increasing efficiency of the Ministry of Interior’s computer system. The allegations that Afshin cooperated with foreign intelligence services while abroad was a charge the regime commonly leveled a decade ago, as it felt reformists were gaining too great a following, and was often followed by a televised forced confession. That the regime is again resorting to such charges may herald a renewed crackdown on Iranians who have lived, studied, or attended conferences abroad.

 

 

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About the Author

 

Michael
Rubin


  • Michael Rubin is a former Pentagon official whose major research areas are the Middle East, Turkey, Iran and diplomacy. Rubin instructs senior military officers deploying to the Middle East and Afghanistan on regional politics, and teaches classes regarding Iran, terrorism, and Arab politics on board deploying U.S. aircraft carriers. Rubin has lived in post-revolution Iran, Yemen, both pre- and post-war Iraq, and spent time with the Taliban before 9/11. His newest book, Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engagement examines a half century of U.S. diplomacy with rogue regimes and terrorist groups.


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