Academic Year in Iran Begins with Imprisonment of Teachers, Arbitrary Arrests
New Law Requires Teachers To Be “Evaluated” with Ideological Questions Every Year
September 28, 2023 – A year-long state crackdown on civil society and dissent in Iran has been corroding the country’s education system, resulting in the arrests or detentions of at least 97 teachers over the past 12 months, as revealed by research conducted by the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
Additionally, there have been at least 24 convictions of teachers on groundless national security charges, at least 20,000 school principals have been reportedly fired for allegedly allowing or supporting protests, and hundreds of teacher union members have been fired or arrested.
“The Iranian government’s deliberate obstruction of access to education is aimed at ensuring that no child is exposed to a teacher who’s critical of the state or supportive of the rights to freedom of speech and expression,” said Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of CHRI.
“The Iranian government is striking at the heart of the country, the education system, to suppress dissent and this warrants strong international condemnation and action to prevent further harm to future generations in the country,” Ghaemi said.
CHRI urges international education organizations, including UNESCO and UNICEF, to demand an immediate cessation of the crackdown in schools and against teachers by the Iranian government, which not only violates students’ rights to free speech and expression, but also impedes access to education.
CHRI also echoes the demand of thousands of teachers and teachers’ unions in Iran for the Islamic Republic to be removed from the governing board of the International Labor Organization (ILO) for flagrantly violating the most Fundamental Principles of the ILO, including freedom of association, through the arbitrary arrests and firings of teachers.
Repression and Retaliation: The Ongoing Struggle of Iran’s Teachers and Principals
On September 27, 2023, three days after the official beginning of the academic year in Iran, parents and students of Tehran’s prestigious Farzanegan High School for Girls organized a protest rally in front of the Department of Education. The students also boycotted classes to express outrage over the firing of their principal, who was replaced with one who aligns with the state and has introduced stringent security measures designed to suppress students’ freedom of speech and expression.
Some 20,000 principals have been sacked and replaced in Iranian high schools since last year, according to Iran’s minister of education, Rezamorad Sahraei.
These cases involve female principals who rejected the compulsory hijab and religious programs, educators who openly criticized the government, and principals who refused to collaborate with security forces in reporting dissenting teachers or students, according to Abolfazl Rahimi-Shad, a teacher and political activist in Tehran who was fired in May 2023 in connection with the protests according to an order by the Ministry of Education.
“I believe the authorities are worried and want to prepare for [Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei’s death in the near future,” Rahimi-Shad told CHRI. “They want to make sure all the government workers are loyal and ready to take orders in case there are more protests.”
Union Activists Arrested, Fired and Subjected to Other Punitive Actions
Since May 2022, teachers and their trade unions, particularly the Coordinating Council of the Iranian Teachers Trade Association (CCITTA), have been subjected to severe pressure by security agencies, noted Mohammad Habibi, a teachers’ rights advocate in Iran who has been imprisoned on sham charges for his peaceful advocacy of teachers rights.
“During this period, numerous union activists and teachers experienced arrests or faced administrative disciplinary actions such as forced retirement, exclusion from pay raises, or job termination,” he told CHRI.
On September 23, 2023, Habibi, the spokesman for the Iranian Teachers Trade Association (ITTA) in Tehran, announced he had been permanently fired for engaging in peaceful advocacy for teachers’ rights to fair pay and the ability to work without being fired for their political views.
He is a teacher with 21 years of service, but his appeal to the Ministry of Education was swiftly rejected. Habibi was released from prison in February 2023 after 10 months in prison on bogus national security charges.
Between June 2022 and September 2022, some 100-150 trade union teachers were detained, including those arrested during earlier protests, said Habibi, adding “Most were prosecuted, some sentenced, and others await verdicts. Following the Jina Movement [the Women Life Freedom protests of 2022], 15 to 20 more teachers were arrested for participating in related activities.”
Additionally, from January to September 2023, about 200 teachers received disciplinary orders and lost benefits, while around 100 union activists were compelled into retirement or suspended, and nearly 20 were terminated, said Habibi, noting that these figures are based on media reports, and many more cases may have gone unreported due to fear of consequences.
A new law that imposes further punishments on unveiled women in Iran also stipulates that teachers must be “evaluated with ideological questions every year” to ensure they support the state’s repressive policies, according to Habibi. “In fact, the behavior of teachers during the year will also be monitored even outside the school environment, including on social media.”
“Apart from pressure on local media to encourage balanced reporting on the issue, activists and organizations should lean on international institutions such as UNICEF and the International Labor Organization, which the Islamic Republic is a member of, to gather support for teachers in Iran,” he said.
“These international institutions should hold the authorities of the Islamic Republic accountable and echo the voices of Iranian teachers and their problems,” added Habibi.
Educators Targeted to Stamp Out Youth Activism
Teachers have become a target of the Iranian government for multiple reasons. Not only do they represent one of the most organized union forces in the country, consistently advocating for improved pay and the release of teachers who are prisoners of conscience, but they have also faced government scrutiny due to their connection with the recent protests in Iran.
For the first time in history, elementary and high school students actively participated in anti-state protests that swept across the nation last autumn. These protests were ignited by the killing of 22-year-old Mahsa Jina Amini while in state custody, merely three days after her arrest on charges related to her attire.
Of particular note, high school girls played a prominent role in these demonstrations, bravely posting photos of themselves without the mandated hijab and boldly chanting “Death to the dictator” in videos that were widely shared on social media platforms.
Teachers also protested the government’s refusal to thoroughly investigate and halt a wave of poison gas attacks at mostly girls’ high schools between February and April.
In response to the student-led and teachers’ protests, the Iranian government has taken severe measures, including detaining, arresting, and dismissing teachers who have been accused of supporting demonstrations, allowing students to protest or holding memorials for students who were killed by state security forces at protests last year.
Mehdi Sheibani is one of these teachers. For filming himself lighting a birthday cake to mark what would have been the 18th birthday of his former student, Abolfazl Adinezadeh, who was shot and killed by state security forces at a street protest in September 2022, Sheibani was detained.
“As the new academic year begins, we find ourselves in a situation where numerous wise, responsible, and compassionate teachers are enduring unjust imprisonment, expulsion, forced retirement, exile, and other grossly unfair penalties. These reprisals stem from their rightful pursuit of demands, advocacy, or responsible critique encompassing cultural, political, social, and even educational matters,” said a statement by the Iranian Teachers’ 100,000 Signatures Campaign on the commencement of the academic year, September 24, 2023.
“Furthermore, many students and some young learners, who were educated by these dedicated educators in schools and universities, have suffered imprisonment or been deprived of their right to access education due to extrajudicial actions,” it added.
The egregious violations of teachers’ fundamental rights in Iran, especially in the past year, have been strongly condemned by Education International, one of the largest and most influential international organizations dedicated to education representing millions of educators worldwide.
In recent weeks, Iranian authorities cracked down on teachers and their union representatives to suppress a resurgence of last year’s rallies as the first anniversary of the extrajudicial killing of Jina Mahsa Amini will be marked on 16 September,” said the statement, which called for the immediate release of release jailed Iranian teacher unionists.
“The government recognizes that all facets of society in Iran want change, from high school students to the elderly,” said Ghaemi. “Instead of bowing to the will of the people, it’s trying to turn back this tide by eliminating anyone who may criticize state policies.”
The following teachers were convicted in the past 10 months after sham trials severely lacking in internationally recognized standards of due process, according to research by CHRI. Their only “crime” was engaging in some form of peaceful protest against repressive state policies.
1- Sara Siahpour, from Tehran, sentenced to six years in prison
2- Ahmad Alizadeh, from the city of Abdanan, Ilam province, sentenced to six years and seven months in prison
3- Shaban Mohammadi, from the city of Marivan, West Azerbaijan province, sentenced to five years in prison
4- Mojgan Bagheri, from the city of Shiraz, Fars province, sentenced to five years in prison
5- Asghar Amirzadegan, from the city of Shiraz, Fars province, sentenced to five years in prison
6- Gholamreza Gholami, from the city of Shiraz, Fars province, sentenced to five years in prison
7- Afshin Razmjooie, from the city of Shiraz, Fars province, sentenced to five years in prison
8- Iraj Rahnema, from the city of Shiraz, Fars province, sentenced to five years in prison
9- Mohammad Ali Razmkesh, from the city of Shiraz, Fars province, sentenced to five years in prison
10- Sarvar Mollaie, from the city of Sanandaj, Kurdistan province, sentenced to three years and six months in prison
11- Hamid Jafari, from the city of Kashan, Isfahan province, sentenced to three years in prison
12- Zahra Esfandiari, from the city of Shiraz, Fars province, sentenced to two years in prison
13- Abdolrazzagh Amiri, from the city of Shiraz, Fars province, sentenced to two years in prison
14- Soleiman Abdi, from the city of Saqqez, Kurdistan province, sentenced to 16 months in prison and 70 lashes
15- Mehdi Dastani, from the city of Yazd, Yazd province, sentenced to one year in prison and 74 lashes
16- Salah Azadi, from the city of Marivan, West Azerbaijan province, sentenced to one year in prison
17- Tahereh Naghiee, from Tehran, sentenced to six months in prison
18- Hamid Jafari Nasrabadi, from Kashan, Isfahan province, sentenced to 15 months in prison
19- Rahim Sarkar, from Qazvin, Qazvin province, sentenced to one year in prison
20- Omid Shahmohammadi, from Divandareh, Kurdistan province, sentenced to five years in prison
21- Parviz Ahsani, from Divandareh, Kurdistan province, was given a suspended five-year prison sentence
22- Kaveh Mohammadzadeh, from Divandareh, Kurdistan province, was given a suspended five-year prison sentence
23- Hiwa Ghoreishi, from Divandareh, Kurdistan province, was given a suspended five-year prison sentence
24- Fatemeh Bahmani, from Divandareh, Kurdistan province, fined 10 million tomans ($243.00)
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