Eight Iraqi trade union leaders have been forcibly transferred from Basra to Baghdad, where their lives are said to be at risk for opposing a planned law in which control over oil exploration and production would be placed in foreign hands.
The men, members of the Iraq Federation of Oil Unions, IFOU, have been moved to the capital apparently on the personal orders of Hussain al-Shahristani, the Iraqi oil minister, under anti-union legislation left over from Saddam Hussein's rule. Greg Muttitt, co-director of Platform, the human rights, environment and oil industry watchdog, described the men's transfer as "extremely disturbing". He met Shahristani a month ago to protest against the move.
The Iraqi oil minister said the eight men were involved with the militias and in criminal activities, such as smuggling. But Muttitt said: "There is absolutely no substance in these extremely serious allegations and he offered no evidence."
Even if there was such evidence, it should be a matter for the Iraqi judicial authorities and the courts, he added.
John Hilary, executive director of War on Want, said: "The Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions has been leading the opposition to the sell-off of Iraq's oil and these members are clearly being targeted for their political actions. We believe the British government should work for the safety of Iraqi trade unionists, not be complicit in their persecution."
Hassan Juma'a Awad, an IFOU spokesman, claimed the transfer was ordered by Shahristani himself. "Those activists, through their hard work, are well known for fighting corruption and corrupt-ministry gangs in the oil sector," he insisted, adding that the transfer amounted to a "human rights crime".