In December of 2015 miners of Agh Dareh gold mines staged a number of protests which earned many miners imprisonment, flogging and hefty fines. Some of the miners described their treatment in a 59 second video where one of the Agh Dareh residents stresses that miners were imprisoned, flogged and fined simply because they wanted to work and earn a living.
The video went viral in Iranian social media highlighting the importance of recounting acts of state cruelty against Iranian workers for the public.
The miners were arrested and sentenced following complaints filed by the mine’s ownership. They were charged with impeding business, vandalism and disorderly behaviour.
Watch the video:
Media reflection of the events triggered a parliamentary probe which issued its report last August confirming that the charges had no foundation. According to the report, the miners had not engaged in impeding business and disturbing public safety and order. They were merely protesting their mas lay off and wanted to meet with management to talk matters over.
In early December 2015 Pouya Zarkan Company laid off 350 workers who had been working in the Agh Dareh mines for over ten years. The workers called for a meeting with the management but were refused.
The miners then proceeded to stage demonstrations in the company premises during which three of the miners, under stress of their job loss, attempted suicide but were rescued. The employer then proceeded to lay charges against the miners and 17 of the miners were sentenced for their participation in the protests.
Nine of the miners who were sentenced to imprisonment, 30 lashes and fines were released on bail after the complainant withdrew the charges against them.
Last June however the flogging sentence against 8 miners and a local resident was carried out triggering widespread outrage.
International Trade Union Confederation reported the incident to the International Labour Organization which added it to the complaint file against the Islamic Republic.
Head of Western Azerbaijan Labour Ministry was fired for denying any knowledge of the events; however, head of the province’s Justice Department defended the proceedings saying the punishment was not meted out for labour protests but for “disturbing public safety and order”.
Head of Takab Justice Department, where the sentences were carried out, also stood by the legality of the floggings and threatened the media with legal action. Counsel for the miners had reportedly managed to reach a settlement with the management who had withdrawn their complaint but the prosecutor had apparently pressed charges on the state’s behalf and proceeded to execute the sentences.
The parliamentary probe reveals widespread illegal handouts from the mining company to various security and administrative offices of the municipality of Takab aimed at tax evasion as well as avoiding environmental regulations.
Agh Dareh mines are located 40 kilometres outside Takab and their workers are mainly from local Kurdish residents who make their living through agriculture, stock farming and carpet weaving. The development of mining in the area in the past twenty years has provided employment for the residents however its extraction practices have rendered the region’s soil inadequate for farming. It has also polluted the air increasing the incidence of skin disease as well as lung and throat cancer. Additionally, it has increased mercury and cyanide levels in the local water supply and had adverse effects on the wildlife in the region.
The workers who were sentenced will face greater obstacles in finding work elsewhere since they now have a police record marking them as disturbers of public safety and security.
Currently from the 17 charged workers only six remain in Agh Dareh and the rest have migrated to other parts of the country in search of employment. Those who have remained are making do with odd jobs or have to rely on their spouse’s carpet weaving income.
However there may be a silver lining in these events. Once communicated across the web, the flogging of the miners of Agh Dareh became a symbol of the injustices borne by Iranian workers all across the country. Its reflection in social media and the outrage it engendered forced the hand of the state. It was pivotal in getting the miners released and in preventing such treatments from becoming the order of the day. A mighty feat for a simple 59 second video.