Collage of images and info about peaceful labor protests in Iran (© Shutterstock, AP Images)

Workers in Iran are increasingly forced to choose between quietly toiling without pay or risking lashes for demanding the wages they are owed.

An Iranian judge recently sentenced 16 workers to 30 lashes and eight months in prison for protesting unpaid wages, part of the regime’s escalating crackdown on workers who demand basic rights.

The sentences handed down in August stem from protests this spring at the Haft Tapeh Sugarcane industrial complex in Khuzestan province in southwestern Iran, where workers demanded two months of back pay.

“The past year has seen the stepping up of pressure by Iranian authorities against trade unionists and other workers protesting for their labour rights,” the United Nations says in a July 18 U.N. report on human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Truckers, teachers and factory workers have been intimidated, arrested and charged with offenses ranging from “spreading propaganda against the state” to “disrupting public order and peace by participating in illegal gatherings,” resulting in sentences of prison terms and flogging, the report says.

Journalist Marzieh Amiri was sentenced to 10 years and 148 lashes for merely covering a recent labor rally. She is expected to serve six years of that sentence.

The U.N. has deemed lashes tantamount to torture.

Consider this example from 2018: An Iranian union activist got a five-year prison sentence for distributing cookies to bus drivers seeking higher wages.

The regime’s punishment of workers’ peaceful protests flies in the face of Iran’s constitution, which permits public gatherings and marches. Despite the purported protections, human rights groups say the jailing of labor advocates continues.

According to the Center for Human Rights in Iran, the regime arrested several labor advocates August 3 outside the Revolutionary Court in Tehran. The advocates sought to attend the trial of labor advocates who attended the sugar mill workers’ protests.

Iran’s regime also regularly targets human rights lawyers and journalists. In April, Reporters Without Borders ranked Iran 170 out of 180 in its annual World Press Freedom Index, citing increasing arrests of Iranian journalists covering anti-government protests.