Iranian teachers continue to face repression, despite recent release of union officials

published 13 September 2022 updated 10 October 2023

Last month, EI welcomed the release on bail of three Iranian teacher union activists. They were amongst the many teachers that have been arrested and detained since May Day in Iran. Despite the good news, the CCITTA and Education International call on the international teaching community to keep the pressure on the government of Iran.

Eskandar Lotfi, Shaban Mohammadi and Masoud Nikkhah are all members of the board of directors of the Teachers’ Trade Association of Mariwan, in the Province of Kurdistan, Iran. Lofti is also the spokesperson for the Coordinating Council of Iranian Teachers’ Trade Associations (CCITTA), Education International’s affiliate.

The three teacher rights' activists were arrested in the wave of repression that targeted teachers all over the country around May Day 2022. The authorities were desperate to stop the peaceful trade union demonstrations over teachers’ poor wages, the inadequate education budget and the imprisonment of teacher trade unionists. The authorities have since arrested, summoned, investigated and/or interrogated more than two hundred teachers on baseless and false national security charges, violating their rights to freedom of association, to organise, and to freedom of speech.

Lofti was eventually released on bail on 17 August 2022, and Mohammadi and Nikkhah on 20 August. All three were imposed disproportionate bails for their release and are still to face trial.

Several of the teachers arrested around May Day remain in detention, sometimes in solitary confinement, such as Rasoul Bodaghi, Jafar Ebrahimi, and Mohammad Habibi.

While in detention, Lofti, together with other detained teachers, went on hunger strike to protest the illegal and repressive actions of the security forces. He was urged by his colleagues to end his hunger strike after 10 days due to severely deteriorating health conditions. The families of many imprisoned labour activists also issued a joint open letter to denounce their continued illegal imprisonment and unacceptable detention conditions.

The CCITTA welcomed the release of their three members but strongly condemned the heavy bails that were issued for their release: “Such heavy bails are absolutely uncalled for and put extreme pressure on these trade union activists and their families and colleagues who have to put their homes and belongings up as collateral in lieu of cash.”

The teacher organisation expressed gratitude towards Education International and its affiliates worldwide for their solidarity and called for their continued support: “The CCITTA wholeheartedly appreciates the ongoing support from our global union federation, the Education International, and all teachers’ organizations and trade unions around the world for their support and solidarity. We count on your continued support to make sure that all jailed teachers and trade union activists in Iran are freed and our internationally recognized rights are respected.”

Iranian teachers have long been advocating for their right to self-organize, better working conditions and free quality public education for all. They have also been at the forefront of pushing back against the increasing assaults of privatization on the education system.

Education International General Secretary David Edwards praised the courage of Iranian teachers and workers: “The level of bravery in the face of such violence & injustice is beyond what many of us can comprehend or imagine.” Calling on the international teaching community to keep up solidarity, he reiterated the Education International’s call for the immediate and unconditional release of all teachers and workers in Iran.

In December 2021, Education International’s Executive Board adopted a resolution demanding respect for the "rights of teachers and education workers to organise and to freedom of association and freedom of speech including the right to peaceful assembly, without fear of intervention by the authorities."

Education International also reiterates its call for the release of Esmail Abdi, former leader of the Tehran Teacher Association. He has been condemned until 2031 on trumped up charges. The long imprisonment and ill treatment in the prison have severely affected his health. Esmail’s family (wife and two daughters and son) are harassed and victimised by the security forces and at a serious risk.

The targeted repression against teachers advocating for their students, their communities and their rights as unionists must end. Teacher unionists in Iran need solidarity more than ever.