July 3, 2024

Reyhaneh Ansari Nejad: The Unyielding Spirit of a Labor Rights Advocate

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Reyhaneh Ansari Nejad, a tireless laborer with grand aspirations, was born on May 11, 1966, in Abadan, Iran. Exactly fifty-six years later, on May 11, 2022, she was arrested in Tehran and incarcerated in Evin Prison.

Raised in a hardworking, large family in the Ahmadabad neighborhood of Abadan, Ansari Nejad’s father served as a guard for an oil company while her mother, in an effort to support their ten children, continuously sewed clothes to help supplement the family’s income.

Ansari Nejad completed her primary education in Abadan and, from a young age, observed the struggles of workers to provide for their families, including her father and elder brother. She witnessed the 1979 Iranian Revolution in Abadan and, following the onset of the Iran-Iraq War and the ensuing insecurity in her hometown, relocated to Tehran.

Despite the harsh realities of life as a war refugee in the capital, Ansari Nejad persevered in her education. However, her university aspirations were disrupted by the Cultural Revolution – a period which saw the purging of any and all Western and non-Islamic influences from Iranian academia. She eventually graduated with an associate degree in genetics from Ahvaz University. After her marriage, she gave birth to a daughter named Farzaneh. A mere six months later, Ansari Nejad’s husband – a foundry worker –  tragically died in an accident, leaving Ansari Nejad as the sole provider for their daughter.

Throughout her life, Ansari Nejad worked various jobs, from typing and typesetting to collaborating with a Ministry of Energy contracting company. These jobs, primarily in the private sector, subjected her to the same struggles faced by many workers, including labor disputes and financial and cultural hardships.

Ansari Nejad was first arrested in a night raid on May 11, 2022, where security forces confiscated personal and electronic devices, including those belonging to her daughter, and froze her bank accounts. Her detention coincided with the arrests of several labor activists and stemmed from an alleged meeting with two French nationals accused of espionage. The activists were reportedly held in Evin Prison’s Ward 209 without contact or information for 75 days, causing significant concern among their families and human rights organizations.

Her active involvement in the Coordinating Committee to Help Form Workers’ Organizations led to her second arrest on April 29, 2023, on the eve of International Workers’ Day and just one year before she expected to retire. Detained along with Ansari Nejad were other labor activists who had gathered at the home of imprisoned teacher Mohammad Habibi. She was held for ten days and released on May 8, 2023, after posting bail. However, she was later summoned to court on July 17, 2023, where she was charged with “assembly and collusion to act against national security” and sentenced to four years in prison and additional restrictions.

On November 6, 2023, Ansari Nejad was summoned and transferred to Evin Prison to serve her sentence. Despite her imprisonment, Ansari Nejad remains vocal. On May 1, 2024, she penned a letter from Evin Prison, highlighting the instrumentalization of workers by political groups and advocating for independent labor organization. She has also faced health issues while in prison, including muscle and joint pain, but has only received medical attention after a long delay. Additionally, recently increased restrictions have further isolated her from her family.

The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) strongly condemns the Iranian government’s imprisonment of Ansari Nejad for engaging in labor protests and organizing, and calls upon the Iranian government to adhere to international human rights obligations and release her, along with all other political prisoners. Ansari Nejad’s resilience and commitment to labor rights continue to inspire, even as she continues to endure imprisonment for her activism.

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