Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Iran regime celebrates World Teachers' Day by jailing 12 union members: New sweep part of longstanding repression

At least twelve members of the central council of the Iranian teachers' union, including the secretary general of the group, Ali Akbar Baghani, were arrested during their weekly meeting at Baghani's house on Tuesday. The arrests took place a day after World Teachers' Day, an event that the union had been banned from celebrating. 

'Some time in the afternoon, two unmarked vans drove up to the house,' Asghar Zati, a former spokesman of the union, told Advar News. 'Everyone in the house was arrested and taken to an unknown location.' Mokhtar Assadi, member of the union's national coordination council told Radio Farda that the house was raided at 3:30 PM. 

Assadi said that the reason for the arrests was unknown and that the Intelligence Ministry would have to provide that information. But he added, 'The intelligence and security forces think that by cracking down on the educational system and the teachers they are somehow confronting the green movement, which has recently spread to universities. They fear that it will spread to the schools and they want to prevent this.'

The conservative Keyhan daily wrote that the union was exploiting teachers' professional issues to dupe people and strengthen itself, referring to the union as a groupuscule. The Kanouneh Senfiyeh Moalleman is known in English as the Iran Teacher Trade Association. Keyhan daily contended that the union was engaging in nefarious acts 'despite the fact that this justice-seeking government has pursued the teachers' professional demands with determination and seriousness.'

The union begged to differ. In a statement published by Advar News before yesterday's arrests took place, the union called for the immediate and unconditional release of their colleagues who had been jailed in the past year, the closure of court cases filed against union members, the payment of the salaries of said members, and the lifting of all restrictions on the activities of civil organizations. Among those who had been arrested prior to yesterday's round of detentions, the statement mentioned Hashem Khastar, Farzad Kamangar, Abdollah Momeni, Jafar Ebrahimi, Mohammad Davari, and Rasoul Badaghi.

The photo to the right is a visual catalog of some of the pressure the government has exerted on the teachers' union. It shows six members of the group's central council at a conference held in Isfahan on June 13 and 14, 2008. Secretary General Baghani, to the extreme right, was among the twelve arrested yesterday, as were Mojtaba Ghoreishian and Mahmoud Beheshti Langeroudi, respectively third and fourth from the right.

On the extreme left are Soraya Darabi, editor of the union magazine Teachers' Pen, and Mohammad Khaksaari, who are married. Their son, Sajjad Khaksaari, a journalist at Teachers' Pen, was arrested on April 26 outside the Majlis during a demonstration organized by teachers from Lorestan and Kermanshah who sought permanent contracts. According to Education International, which represents 30,000 teachers worldwide, Sajjad was also arrested in 2006 for writing an article on the plight of Iranian teachers. In early January of this year, he was arrested for attending an 'illegal teachers' gathering' and later that month he was again detained for taking photographs of a demonstration. Education International reiterated its call for the release of Khaksaari on September 1.

Rasoul Badaghi, second from the right in the photo, was also arrested during the same April 26 gathering as Khaksaari, though he was released a day later. In 2007, he was arrested during a demonstration seeking a salary readjustment for teachers. He received a suspended two-year sentence. More recently, he was summoned to the Education services of Islamshahr on August 25, the same day that other unionists were meeting with opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi in Tehran. When Badaghi left the building, two Peugeots carrying eight passengers screeched to a halt next to him. He was dragged into one car and taken away. It was only after 17 nerve-wracking days that the authorities contacted his family and informed them that he was being kept in wing 209 of Evin Prison.

Alireza Hashemi, leader of another representative group, the Iran Teachers' Organization, was arrested on June 16 and released 25 days later without any explanation.   

Union officials have expressed concern that the repression will lead to the radicalization of some of their members. 'We do not have poilitical demands, just professional ones,' Mokhtar Assadi, member of the teachers' union's national coordination council told Radio Farda. 'We express our demands through legal channels, but there might come a day when we will not be able to control the teachers' actions,' he warned.