LONDON: Human Rights Watch has called on authorities in Iran to release teachers being held across the country, after at least 38 were detained for organizing peaceful protests that took place on May 1.
The organization said at least 17 of the educators are still in custody, according to reports by the Emtedad News Agency, including Mohammad Habibi, spokesperson for the Iranian Teachers Trade Association.
The coordinating council of the Iranian Cultural Teachers Associations had called for the nationwide protest in response to concerns about low wages over the past two years. The regime in Tehran has responded to the growing discontent among teachers through arrests and interrogations.
A number of unions have been formed in Iran since 2005 by various groups under article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and article 8 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Tehran is a signatory to both but that has not prevented the regime from applying significant pressure to senior members of unions, including the teachers’ organization, as Iran’s labor laws do not recognize the right to form unions unless approved by the government.
In April, authorities arrested three prominent members of the ITTA: Rasoul Bodaghi in Tehran, Latif Roozikhah in East Azerbaijan province and Jafar Ebrahimi. Bodaghi was sentenced to five years in jail, and Ebrahimi to four, for “assembly and collusion to act against national security” and “propaganda against the state.”
Mahmoud Behesti Langroudi, vice president of the ITTA, and Rasoul Kargar, a member of the union from Fars, have also been arrested and are awaiting trial. Another nine teachers are known to have been referred to prosecutors in Kurdistan province.
In 2016, the regime targeted ITTA Secretary-General Ismael Abdi after he organized protests, accusing him of “spreading propaganda against the state” and “assembly and collusion against national security.” He was jailed for six years and also given a 10-year suspended sentence. He was released in 2020 but arrested a month later after authorities activated the suspended sentence. He is currently on hunger strike, according to the organization Human Rights Activists in Iran.
Tara Sepehri Far, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch, said: “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.
“Attempting to silence peaceful mobilization and protests won’t make Iran’s dismal economic reality go away.”