Four Teachers Detained in Iran and Several Others Summoned to Court After Peaceful Sit-In
Security Forces Hijack Teachers’ Union Telegram Channel
Four teachers who participated in a peaceful sit-in for teachers’ and education rights in Iran this week remain behind bars five days after they were arrested.
The Iranian Teachers’ Trade Association (ITTA) reported on October 14 that the head of its secretariat, Mohammad Reza Ramezanzadeh, and a teacher, Mohammad Ghanbari, were arrested after the strike was launched on October 13, 2018.
On October 17, ITTA member Mohammad Saleh Shokri was also arrested by Intelligence Ministry agents in Saqqez. He has not been charged and is being denied legal representation. He has also been denied visits from his family but was allowed to make a brief phone call to inform his family that he had been detained.
On October 11, Abbas Vahedian, a teacher and ITTA member, was arrested at his home in Mashhad on the eve of the sit-in strike by security agents who raided his house, confiscated his personal belongings and took him to an unknown location.
Unnamed state forces also hijacked another union’s Telegram channel.
“Following yesterday’s successful sit-in, the channel belonging to the Teachers’ Trade Organizations’ Coordination Council (TTOCC) and the cloud space for the sit-in are no longer in the group’s control because of the arrest of Mohammad Reza Ramezanzadeh,” said the posting.
The post added that threatening messages against teachers had been posted on the channel since it had been hijacked.
In addition to Ramezanzadeh and Ghanbari, an unknown number of teachers have been summoned to Intelligence Ministry’s offices in Tehran, Qazvin, Bojnourd, Saqqez, Marivan, Kermanshah and Aligoudarz, and have been ordered to appear on October 20 in court, a teachers’ rights advocate based in Iran told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
“We only know that seven teachers have been summoned in Saqqez, but we don’t know the exact numbers in the other cities. If the charges against them are serious, their names will be released,” added the source who requested anonymity for security reasons.
In Aligoudarz, Lorestan Province, Amin Azimi, also an ITTA member, was freed on October 16, two days after being arrested.
Teachers in several Iranian cities did not show up to class on October 13 to join a peaceful sit-in demanding a reformation of Iran’s education system, which teachers argue is not meeting the needs of teachers or students.
Participants posted photos and videos on social media holding signs with their demands, including: the reinstatement of free schooling for all levels, salary increases, ending the imprisonment of teachers’ rights activists and being allowed to strike and organize without the threat of arrest.
Some students at the universities of Tehran and Allah Tabataba’i boycotted classes and held sit-ins on October 14 expressing solidarity with the protesting teachers.
They held up signs with slogans including “classes are closed as long as teachers are behind bars.”
Independent labor unions are not allowed to function in Iran, strikers are often fired and risk arrest, and labor leaders are consistently prosecuted under catchall national security charges and sentenced to long prison terms.
The following four prominent teachers’ rights activists were in jail in Iran serving long prison sentences when the teachers’ held their sit-in.
Esmail Abdi: A high school teacher and former ITTA secretary general, Abdi has been serving a six-year prison sentence since November 2016 in Evin Prison in Tehran for the charges of “propaganda against the state” and “collusion against national security.”
Mahmoud Beheshti-Langroudi: A former ITTA spokesman, Beheshti-Langroudi’s most recent imprisonment began in September 2017. He is serving multiple sentences for his peaceful trade union activities in Evin Prison.
Rouhollah Mardani: In June 2018, Mardani, a graduate student in Persian literature at the University of Tehran who had also worked as a teacher in the city of Nourabad in Lorestan Province, was sentenced by a preliminary court to six years in prison. He was also banned for two years from political and social activities and prohibited from leaving the country for two years. Mardani was imprisoned for taking part in peaceful protests on campus in late January 2018; the charges he was convicted of are unclear. He is in Evin Prison.
Mohammad Habibi: Arrested for peacefully advocating teachers’ rights, Habibi was sentenced by a preliminary court in August 2018 to 10 years in prison (7.5 of which he will have to serve) and 74 lashes. He was also banned for two years from political and social activities and prohibited from leaving the country for two years. Habibi was convicted of the following charges: “assembly and collusion against national security,” “propaganda against the state” and “disturbing public order.” He is in the Great Tehran Penitentiary.
*This article was corrected on December 28, 2018, to reflect that Mohammad Habibi was sentenced to 10 years in prison.