Asia 22 May 2008 It could have been me Mansour was snatched from a bus last year and beaten, and has been held in prison ever since. His cr By David Cockcroft Mansour Ossanlu is the leader of the Union of Workers of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company. At 7pm on 10 July 2007 he was snatched from a bus driven by one of his members, bundled into a car and beaten by men in plain clothes. He has been in prison ever since. Amnesty International believes he is a prisoner of conscience, held solely on account of his peaceful trade union activities, and that he should be released immediately and unconditionally. It is not the first time Ossanlu has been detained. In December 2005, bus drivers in Iran went on strike to call for better pay. Many union leaders, including Ossanlu, were arrested. He spent nine months in detention over the next year, and was reported to have been involved in a dispute with prison officials during which his head was struck, resulting in damage to the retinas in both eyes. He was denied treatment, and there were worries that he might go blind. It was only after a concerted campaign from Amnesty and trade unionists around the world that he was allowed treatment. Permits and protections Mansour Ossanlu was working peacefully for better conditions for workers in Iran and to end laws that curtail their rights. His "crime" was simply to be a trade unionist. His union is free and democratic, but has been subject to repeated harassment by the security forces, as it is not recognised by the authorities as a legitimate trade union body. In January 2006, after Ossanlu's first arrest, bus workers went on strike to demand official recognition of their union and to call for his release: up to 1,000 union members were arrested and more than 40 bus workers who took part in the strike were dismissed from their jobs. Independent trade unions are not permitted in Iran. Workers have few legal rights or protections and union activists are regularly beaten, arrested, jailed and tortured. Government bodies select who can stand for union posts and all public sector jobs. Trade unions in Iran are represented by a body known as the Workers' House, whose leaders are also subject to selection criteria imposed by the state. The Union of Workers of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company resumed activities in 2004 after a 25-year ban; it is still not legally recognised. Ossanlu is a 48-year-old family man courageous enough to stand up for his rights and those of his fellow workers - an ordinary person who has become involved in extraordinary events. We share a common belief that workers' rights are human rights and must be protected; and that working men and women have a right to join together to form trade unions. Like many of Ossanlu's fellow workers, I was out on the streets protesting at his arrest. But I was in London, where my greatest worry was getting as much media attention for his case as I could; they were in Tehran, where being a trade unionist is far more dangerous. Support from afar Shortly before his arrest, Ossanlu had travelled to Europe to build international support for an independent Iranian trade union movement. During a visit to Amnesty's London office, he said that appeals from members and trade union activists had "made us know that we were not alone. When I was in prison and heard of all the support from so many thousands of miles away my spirits rose. In this struggle, it is very valuable. This campaigning has also disclosed the repression and made sure that the authorities know that they are being watched by the outside world." It is this global advocacy, from trade unionists and other supporters of human rights, that helps to keep the brave ones like Mansour Ossanlu going in their vital struggle for human rights. And that is reason enough for us to ensure that our support doesn't falter. For more information and to take action visit: http://www.amnesty.org.uk/ tradeunions Subscribe This article first appeared in the 26 May 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Moral crisis?