Iranian prosecutors have launched a fresh attack on labor activists across the country, turning their attention to teachers' unions following their support for protests in Khuzestan and elsewhere.
From Rasht in Gilan province to Bushehr near the Persian Gulf and Iran’s Kurdistan province, at least 11 people with links to teachers’ and other unions have been summoned and arrested in the last three months, according to a national coalition for teachers’ and cultural sector unions.
The arrests have tended to follow summons, issued by text message or written letter, although some activists have been detained at their homes. In many cases, they have not been informed of the charges against them. Lawyers working on behalf of activists or union activities have been among those incarcerated.
According to the Coordinating Council of Cultural Associations, eight people were arrested in Islamshahr, Tehran province, for taking part in a rally in support for people in the province of Khuzestan, where widespread protests have erupted across several cities and towns in response to severe water shortages, and where security forces have responded with brutal suppression. News reports say security officials opened cases against Islamshahr Cultural Association director Rasoul Badaghi and other demonstrators.
Nosrat Behesht, one of 14 women activists who signed a letter calling for the resignation of the Supreme Leader, was arrested by security forces at her home in Mashhad on Wednesday, August 4 and taken to an unknown location. She has been in touch with her family, informing them that she is being held by the Ministry of Intelligence. No details are available about her charges. The retired teacher had recently been summoned to the Mashhad intelligence office.
Gilan Cultural Association board members Teymour Bagheri Koudakani, Mahmoud Sedighipour and Aziz Ghasemzadeh, who is also the union’s spokesman, were ordered to appear before Rasht prosecutors. The three men have not been informed of the charges against them.
Mohsen Omrani, a teachers’ union activist and a member of the Bushehr Cultural Association, was summoned by the Bushehr police intelligence office on May 26 and has reportedly been interrogated about his union activities.
One Family’s Ominous Public Message
Kiomars Selouki, a teacher, Khorasan Razavi Cultural Workers' Union activist and member of the Iranian Sociological Association, was arrested by the Mashhad intelligence forces on June 2, and released on bail on June 21.
Selouki’s family issued a public statement on June 22 that bears the hallmarks of government pressure. "On June 2, he was finally politely and respectfully detained by the esteemed personnel of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security on charges that were mainly related to his activities in cyberspace. He was released on bail yesterday and returned home in perfect health.” The statement went on to say that these reports of good treatment had come from Selouki himself, who they had spoken on the phone with three times. “He only regretted that the detention period was extended due to sensitivities and circumstances,” the statement continued, indicating that a case had been raised against him because he had expressed his frustration with “social ills” online. “Because he works in political sociology, many of his activities involve research into various social sectors and presenting social views and analysis."
Also arrested for his online activities was Masoud Hamidnia, a senior teacher who began his time at university at the age of 16 because of his high IQ. Andimeshk Revolutionary Guards intelligence agents detained him on June 12.
While carrying out the arrest, agents searched the union activist's home without a warrant and confiscated some of his personal belongings, including a laptop and a cell phone. Hamidnia was reported to have posted regularly on social media during the recent presidential election.
His arrest follows at least a decade of harassment from authorities. According to the Coordinating Council of Cultural Associations, after teaching chemistry for 17 years, Hamidnia was fired in 2011 by the Khuzestan Education Board after calling for better, fairer and equal education in Iran.
In Prison Despite Serious Health Concerns
Hamidnia’s family say he remains in detention and are worried for his health, as he suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and other ailments and does not have access to his medication. They said they were allowed a two-minute telephone call with him but do not know where he is being held.
There are also concerns for Mahabad-based Hossein Hassankhani, a retired teacher and union activist who has been in prison since July 10. He was sentenced by the Revolutionary Court to three months in prison for participating in local teachers’ union gatherings and rallies.
The unions’ coordinating council issued a statement on July 12 condemning the ruling and calling for Hassankhani’s unconditional release, pointing out that he suffered from a severe heart condition and had undergone multiple surgeries.
It also appealed to the judiciary to act independently and resist pressure from Iran’s security forces.
The Saqez and Zivieh branch of the Kurdistan Teachers' Union also issued a statement in support of Hassankhani. "In the hope of removing obstacles along the way and achieving its lofty goals, the union activists have conveyed their demands to the policymakers of the education system in different ways and have provided appropriate and logical solutions to solve the problems in this area." It also raised Hassankhani’s health issues.
“Propaganda Against the Regime”
Although many of those recently arrested have not been informed of the charges against them, Hossein Ramezanpour from the Farhangian Trade Union Association of North Khorasan was taken to court on June 15 to face ongoing charges of "propaganda against the regime" and "spreading lies to disturb the public opinion." The two charges are routinely used against outspoken opponents of the government, or against people who exercise their right to protest. He was released on bail until his trial.
The union activist, along with board members from the union, had previously been sentenced to five years in prison and two separate sentences of 74 lashes. The appeals court reduced the sentence to three years, though the punishment of 74 lashes stayed intact.
On July 27, it was announced that Asghar Amirzadegan, a retired teacher and union activist in Firoozabad, Fars, had been arrested and put behind bars. He had repeatedly been summoned and interrogated by the city's intelligence service prior to his arrest, but had been temporarily released on bail. It was only when he arrived at the Firoozabad police station to collect his confiscated mobile phone that he was arrested on two charges of "propaganda against the regime" and "disturbing the public opinion" and was handed over to the Firoozabad prosecutor's office and then transferred to the city's prison.