Iran: Free teachers jailed for speaking out
Iranian authorities should immediately free seven teachers who are behind bars solely for speaking out against the government. Iran should also end harassment of dozens of others teachers who are facing charges or who have already served time in prison on national-security-related charges. Human Rights Watch issued the call on World Teachers Day as part of a joint campaign initiated by Iranian and other international rights groups to highlight the plight of teachers who criticize the government.
Iranian authorities have detained at least 39 teachers since 2009 on various national-security-related charges. Revolutionary courts have sentenced 15 of them to prison, mostly in connection with trade union activities, including protests calling for wage raises. Several others were arrested in connection with activities unrelated to their teaching, including participation in anti-government demonstrations following the disputed 2009 presidential election and advocacy on behalf of ethnic minority rights.
“The arrest and detention of teachers is symptomatic of the Iranian government’s inability to tolerate any show of dissent, even from those it entrusts with the education of its children,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
While 32 of the teachers have been released, seven remain in jail. Among those released, some still have pending charges and could be summoned to court at any time. All 39 were targeted for exercising their rights under international law of freedom of speech and association, and peaceful assembly, Human Rights Watch said.
The Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi and dozens of other Iranian rights groups both inside and outside the country spearheaded the “Be the Voice of Iranian Teachers” campaign on September 29, 2012.
Mohammad Davari, Rasool Bodaghi, Abdollah Momeni, and Mahmood Bagheri are currently serving a total of 24-and-a-half years behind bars on various national security charges including “propaganda against the regime,” “colluding and assembly with the intention of disrupting national security,” and participating in illegal gatherings. All except Momeni are members of teachers’ trade unions.
The other three currently in prison – Hashem Shaabaninejad, Hadi Rashedi, and Alireza Ghanbari – are on death row for terrorism-related charges. Human Rights Watch previously called on the Iranian judiciary to quash the execution orders for Rashedi and Shaabaninejad, whom Arab activists contend were tortured to confess to involvement in terrorist-related incidents in Iran’s Arab-majority Khuzestan province. Other rights groups have called for the release of Ghanbari, who was convicted by Branch 15 of Tehran Revolutionary Court on the charge of moharebeh, or “enmity against God,”in connection with his participation in anti-government protests in December 2009, and “contact with enemy groups.”
In May 2010, authorities executed a Kurdish teacher and political activist, Farzad Kamangar, after a revolutionary court sentenced him on the charge of moharebeh, for his alleged ties to an armed Kurdish group. In February 2008, Kamangar’s lawyer told Human Rights Watch that his client had alleged numerous instances of abuse and torture at the hands of prison authorities during his detention.
Authorities have prosecuted, summoned, harassed, disciplined, or fired dozens of teachers and university professors since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took office in 2005. After major demonstrations by teachers’ trade unions in 2006 and 2007, the Disciplinary Violations Board of the Ministry of Education dismissed or disciplined hundreds of teachers who took part in the protests.
In recent cases, authorities summoned and threatened Mohammad Tavakoli, a member of the Teachers Trade Society in the city of Kermanshah, on August 11 for his trade union activities. On May 2, security officials in Iran’s Kordestan province summoned and interrogated 13 Kurdish teachers in relation to their trade union activities. Earlier in 2012, Branch 1 of the Revolutionary Court in the central city of Yazd sentenced nine teachers, all members of a local teachers union to prison terms on various charges, including of propaganda against the regime related to their participation in strikes asking for wage increases. The court suspended their sentences.
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 signatory to both of these treaties. Iran is also a member of International Labour Organization (ILO), but has so far refused to sign covenants 87 (Freedom of Association and the Protection of the Right to Organize Convention) and 98 (Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining Convention) of the ILO treaty.