At least seven teachers have been arrested by security forces in the latest wave of protests by educators in Iran over unfair pay and arbitrary detention.
The nationwide teachers’ union has named five of them as Mohammad Ali Zahmatkesh, Asghar Amirzadegan and Ghahraman Kiani in Shiraz, and Ahmad Heidari and Ahmad Davoudi in Tehran.
Human rights organization Hengaw names a sixth as Jabbar Dousti, an ex-teacher from Marivan. The seventh is Shaban Mohammadi, a member of the Kurdistan-Marivan Teachers’ Union who was arrested in a raid on his home on Sunday. A source close to the Mohammadi family said he had been taken away without a court order or explanation of the charges.
The whereabouts of the seven detained educators is currently unknown. Also on Monday, Jafar Ebrahimi, lead inspector for the Educational Trade Unions Coordination Council, was sentenced to six months in prison for his role in the strikes by the Revolutionary Court of Karaj.
Nationwide strikes and sit-ins took place on Saturday, Sunday and Monday as part of a now months-long revolt over the 2022-23 budget bill. The bill has seen long-standing previous commitments to improve teachers’ pay grading watered down or abandoned outright, while other arms of government have received huge funding boosts.
Teachers gathered in front of the parliament building in Tehran and at the education departments of other cities, including Ilam, Hamedan, Shiraz, Yazd, Bushehr, Kermanshah, Nowshahr and Tabriz. Unions report that in total, sit-ins were held in more than 250 cities, districts and villages on the first day, and 300 on the second.
This time, the chants that were heard included “Revolutionary parliament: false promises” and “Death to the liars” as well as renewed calls for equitable wages and the release of jailed teachers.
Marivan Teachers Rush to Colleagues’ Aid
The arrests of Shaban Mohammadi and Jabbar Dousti in Marivan prompted immediate outrage on the part of their fellow protesters. Members of the Kurdistan-Marivan Teachers’ Union held a fresh rally in front of the Marivan Intelligence Office to demand their colleagues’ immediate release.
A local source told IranWire that during the protest, Eskandar Lotfi, a spokesperson for the national Coordination Council, had entered the building personally to speak to officials. He was reportedly promised that Jabbar Dousti would be released by nightfall, but Shaban Mohammadi would remain in custody “until further notice”.
At the time of writing on the Monday night, Dousti had not been released either. He was arrested by intelligence agents on the Monday morning, moments before joining the original planned protest at Marivan Education Department.
Speaker Pours Cold Water on Key Demand
The main issue at stake for the striking workers is the incomplete implementation of a ranking system designed to regulate their salaries and bring them in line with cost of living increases.
They also say 1,400 retirees are owed back-pay in the form of end-of-year bonuses, and that the bill does not cover either those working for semi-private, sub-contracted education providers, or those employed in education on the administrative and service side.
During a recent debate on the budget bill, Speaker of Parliament Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf defended the decision to exclude vast swathes of the sector. “Our goal in the teachers’ [pay] ranking system is to promote their status in the Islamic community,” he insisted. “A teacher is someone who attends class for 24 hours a week. We should not include the non-teachers. Although these people are dear to us, a teacher is higher than those in service roles in terms of status.”
Threats to Labor Activists
In addition to the arrests and the sentencing of Jabbar Dousti, trade unionists across Iran report being pressured by the authorities not to attend the rallies. On Sunday two members of Kermanshah Teachers’ Union, Mohammad Reza Javaheri and Khan Aziz Ismaeili, were summoned to the local Intelligence Office and warned they would have to “accept the consequences” if they went along. They and five others, namely Alireza Ghobadi, Manouchehr Aghabeigi, Anoushirvan Barimundi, Ali Sadeghi and Reza Bayat, had faced the same threats on November 30 and December 1 last year.
In Khuzestan this weekend, labor activists Pirooz Nami, Ali Koroshat and Farangis Nasimpour were told they must appear before Branch 2 of the Revolutionary Court of Ahvaz to hear “allegations” against them. The charges are not yet known.
In Tehran, Rasoul Bodaghi, an inspector with the Coordination Council, was asked on January 17 to appear before Branch Two of Evin Prosecutor's Office within 10 days to respond to also as-yet unknown charges against him. Security forces raided his home in early December 2021. Teachers’ union activist Mohammad Habibi, who has faced jail time in the past, was summoned by Branch Six of Shahriar Public and Revolutionary Prosecutor's Office for “some explanations” and told to bring a lawyer with him.
Earlier on January 13, Maryam Kabiri, Secretary of Special Schools in Tehran’s District 2, was arrested by Ministry of Intelligence agents while leaving her house. Her and her husband’s personal belongings were confiscated in the ensuing raid, and she was taken to Evin Prison. Ms. Kabiri has only been able to contact her family once since then and a case has been filed against her at Branch 6 of Evin Prosecutor’s Office. No information has been made available on the charges against her.