Iran: Release Detained Teacher Activists

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Thousands of Iranian teachers took to the streets in 28 cities across the country, demanding better labor protections, February 2015.
© 2015 Siavosh Hosseini, Sipa via AP Images

(Beirut) – Iranian authorities have increased their crackdown against teachers organizing for their rights, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities should immediately and unconditionally release teachers detained for engaging in peaceful protests and labor organization.

Emtedad News Agency reported that as of May 1, 2022, Iranian authorities have arrested at least 38 teachers across the country over the past two weeks. At least 17 them are still detained, including Mohammad Habibi, the Iranian Teachers Trade Association’s (ITTA) spokesperson. These arrests come after the Coordinating Council of the Iranian Cultural Teachers Associations called for a nationwide protest on May 1, a day before National Teachers’ Day.

“Iranian authorities have yet again decided to lock up people for seeking to organize to assert their collective rights instead of working with independent associations to ensure respect for Iranians’ economic and social rights,” said Tara Sepehri Far, senior Iran Researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Attempting to silence peaceful mobilization and protests won’t make Iran’s dismal economic reality go away.”

Teachers’ associations in Iran have been leading nationwide protests against low wages over the past two years. In response, Iranian authorities have summoned, arrested, and detained teachers’ union activists.

Since the beginning of the Iranian new year in March, the authorities have increased their pressure against activist teachers, summoning more than a dozen teachers for interrogation. On April 30, the authorities also arrested Rasoul Bodaghi, another prominent member of ITTA; Latif Roozikhah, a ITTA board member in East Azarbaijan province; and Jafar Ebrahimi, an ITTA inspector who was sentenced to four years in prison on charges of “assembly and collusion to act against national security” and “propaganda against the state” in November 2021.

On April 18, the ITTA reported that branch 26 of Tehran’s revolutionary court had sentenced Bodaghi to five years in prison on the charges of “assembly and collusion against national security” and “propaganda against the state.”

ITTA also said that the authorities have brought charges against Mahmoud Behesti Langroudi, vice president of ITTA, and Rasoul Kargar, another member of the union from Fars province. On May 2, ITTA reported that the cases of at least nine teachers have been referred to the prosecutors’ office in Kurdistan province.

Iranian authorities have long targeted prominent members of teachers’ associations. The authorities have imprisoned Ismael Abdi, the secretary general of ITTA, since 2015, sentencing him in 2016 to six years in prison on the charges of “spreading propaganda against the state” and “assembly and collusion against national security” that stemmed from his role in organizing peaceful protests. The authorities released Abdi on March 17, 2020, amid the Covid-19 pandemic, but they returned him to prison a month later even though he was qualified for conditional release after reinstating a previously suspended 10-year prison sentence against him. On May 1, Human Rights Activists (HRA) reported that Abdi had begun a hunger strike to protest the recent sentences against teachers.

Since 2005, the authorities have repeatedly harassed, summoned, arrested, convicted, and sentenced workers affiliated with independent unions. Nonetheless, workers have formed large, independent unions, including the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company, Haft Tappeh Sugar Cane Company Workers’ Syndicate, and the Iran Free Workers’ Union.

Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and article 8 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) protect the right to form and join labor unions. Iran is a party to both of these treaties.

Over the past four years, labor protests have been on the rise in Iran in response to declining living standards, delayed wages, and decreased insurance support. Iran’s labor law does not recognize the right to create labor unions independent of government-sanctioned groups such as the Islamic Labor Council.

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