Esmail Abdi, the General Secretary of the Iranian Teachers’ Trade Association (ITTA-Tehran) was sentenced to six year of incarceration by verdict of the Branch 36 of Appeals Court of Tehran. This sentence which was announced on 7 October 2016 is a confirmation of a previous ruling by Judge Salavati, in February of 2015, who had condemned Abdi with cliché, preposterous charges such as “assembling and colluding against national security” to six years in prison.
Mr. Abdi was invited by the Education International (EI) to attend the EI’s 7th World Congress which was going to take place in Ottawa, Canada from July 21 to 26th, 2015. He was travelling to Armenia in order to obtain visa for Canada; however, his passport and other documents were confiscated at the border and he was told that he had to return to Tehran and report to the public prosecutor’s office at Evin prison about his situation including the fact that border agencies had received an order from Tehran according to which he was banned from leaving the country. Mr. Abdi appeared before the prosecutor office in the Evin prison on Saturday, June 27th, 2015 accompanied by over 70 teachers. However, he was arrested and incarcerated while his colleagues were waiting for him outside the prison.
He was detained in Evin prison for the next eleven months. Subsequently Mr. Abdi and Mr. Jafar Azimzadeh (another prominent labour activist in Iran) began a joint hunger strike before May Day 2016 which generated tremendous solidarity campaigns in Iran and throughout the world from various labour and teachers’ organizations and forced Islamic Republic of Iran to temporarily release Mr. Abdi first and Mr. Azimzadeh after 63 days of being on hunger strike.
The confirmation of the six year sentence by the court of appeal for Esmail Abdi is a clear indication that Islamic regime is still busy responding to teachers’ just and legitimate demands through repression and incarceration, hoping in vain that such harsh responses would stop teachers from pursuing their grievances and demands.
This sentence against Mr. Abdi is issued while Islamic regime’s policies have created a full blown crisis for the country’s educational system and teachers’ living conditions. Pursuit of neoliberal policies; privatization and commodification of the educational system have destroyed any remnants of equal opportunity, free education in Iran. Many students from low income families are practically banned from attending schools. According to latest reports about three and half million students from low income families are unable to attend school. Children from Afghan immigrant families living in Iran have the highest percentage when it comes to being deprived from education rights due to their very low income and systemic discriminations. These families have to renew their children’s school certificate by an amount that equals almost a half of their monthly meager income. According to official statistics there are about 2,000,000 child laborers, but according to independent sources, which are more likely accurate, there are about 7,000,000 child laborers in Iran. All these are from working class and low income families and beside the myriad of problems they face on a daily basis they are all also deprived from a basic minimal education and condemned to a life of illiteracy.
Even majority of the children that are fortunate enough to attend school are condemned to studying in substandard classrooms and schools. Some of these structures are so dilapidated that they simply crumble and take away students’ lives. According to published reports, 7,000,000 square meters of schools are dilapidated, worn out and in need of substantial budget allocation for renovations. In the Northern Khorasan province according to the vice chairman of province’s research and planning currently 59 percent of the province’s school rooms are substandard, and 20 percent are made out mud and clay. The situation across the Country is so extreme that even one of the MPs of the regime reported that in the City of Izeh some barns are used as classrooms. Just two weeks ago a number of school girls in Kerman province were physically punished and flogged by the principal because they couldn’t pay their tuition fees.
Iranian school children are condemned to such dire educational circumstances in a country where the amounts of financial frauds and malfeasance of state officials and executives are astronomical.
Iranian teachers carry on their pedagogical work in such a context, in which they themselves are also deprived from many of their basic rights and liberties. Teachers’ wages are also below the official poverty line. Many teachers have temporary contracts and despite their long seniority they have no job security and enjoy very few benefits. For all the retired teachers their pensions and retirement benefits are not adequate to meet their minimal needs. When it comes to recommendation of educational experts concerning the content of text books and the educational system and teachers’ statute in the society their expert views are jettisoned and dismissed. Teachers’ basic legitimate right to have their own independent associations is met with government’s repressive measures.
Iranian teachers’ nationwide protests and strikes in the past few years clearly indicated how they detest these circumstances and look forward to a systematic change of these inhumane, discriminatory and repressive conditions. The Islamic Republic of Iran is attempting to eliminate teachers’ grievances and demands through repression of their protests and lengthy incarceration of their representatives and activists. Islamic regime’s repressive measures have to be counteracted. Messrs. Abdi’s and Azimzadeh’s release from jail (although it was a temporarily victory) proved that such a goal is possible. As long as teachers’ representatives and organizers are incarcerated or they are threatened with jail sentences, teachers will face tremendous difficulties actualizing their goals. Demanding freedom for all incarcerated teachers, labour activists and social activists is also a part and parcel of teachers’ struggle to realize their demands.
International Alliance in Support of Workers in Iran (IASWI) condemns the confirmation of six year jail sentence against Mr. Abdi in strongest possible terms and based on our obligations and duty we call on all international labour organizations, particularly all teachers’ unions and specifically Education International (EI) to also strongly protest this illegal and unjust jail sentence and contribute to nullifying it.
International Alliance in Support of Workers in Iran (IASWI)