Hunger-Striking Imprisoned Prominent Teachers’ Rights Activist in Poor Health
Esmail Abdi, the imprisoned former leader of Iran’s largest teachers’ union, is suffering from a severe drop in blood pressure and vertigo after nearly two weeks on hunger strike in Evin Prison.
“If something happens to my client, I will hold the judiciary chief, the Supreme Court, the prosecutor general, the Tehran prosecutor, the head of the Prisons Organization, the Intelligence Ministry and all other security agencies responsible for his life,” Abdi’s lawyer, Amir Salar Davoudi, told CHRI on May 3.
An informed source told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on May 11, 2017 that officials have not responded to Abdi’s demand for an end to the persecution of peaceful activists on false security charges.
In a letter announcing his hunger strike on April 30, Abdi, the former secretary general of the Iranian Teachers’ Trade Association, said he would continue to refuse food “until my case is investigated in a normal way outside the security apparatus.”
“Amidst deafening calls from officials for the rule of law, democracy, human rights and civil liberties in the post-nuclear deal (2015) era, we are witnessing the arrest of board members of teachers’ guilds and independent workers’ organizations, who are put on trials that last a few minutes and condemned on the basis of identical charges such as ‘acting against national security’ and ‘propaganda against the state,’” he wrote.
“Under these circumstances, I announce my solidarity with all teachers and workers protesting the judiciary’s lack of independence in issuing security rulings against activists.”
Labor activism in Iran is seen as a national security offense; independent labor unions are not allowed to function, strikers are often fired and risk arrest, and labor leaders are consistently prosecuted under catchall national security charges and sentenced to long prison terms.
In November 2016, the former mathematics teacher began serving a six-year prison sentence for “propaganda against the state” and “collusion against national security.” The sentence was upheld in October 2016 by an Appeals Court in Tehran following pressure from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
In an October 2016 interview with CHRI after the Appeals Court’s decision, Abdi said he believed the judge was influenced by several alleged violations added to the indictment by the IRGC’s Sarallah Headquarters.
“On June 1 (2016) my lawyer and I appeared at Branch 36 of the Tehran Appeals Court. At the end of the trial, I asked for sentencing to be postponed so that I could have a chance to show that our activities were purely professional and not political in nature,” he said.
Security forces have detained Abdi four times between 2006 and 2009 for his peaceful activism. He was also issued a 10-year suspended prison sentence in 2011 by the Tehran Revolutionary Court for “propaganda against the state” and “revealing information about security matters.”
Several political and civil rights activists are currently suffering through different stages of their hunger strikes in Iranian prisons.
The prisoners include children’s rights activist Atena Daemi, political activist and journalist Hengameh Shahidi, and Kurdish political activist Zeinab Jalalian.