Authorities arrested Esmail Abdi, the general secretary of Iran’s Teachers’ Trade Union, on Saturday, June 27, after they summoned him to report to the public prosecutor’s office at Evin Prison.
At the end of June, the Teachers’ Trade Union reported, Abdi was preparing to travel to Canada to participate in the International Conference of Teachers’ Trade Unions. He was due to leave from Armenia, but border guards stopped him as he was leaving the country, and informed him he was not permitted to leave. Border guards also told him he was required to report to the public prosecutor’s office at Evin about the matter.
Abdi responded to the summons, and on June 27, accompanied by 70 teachers — many of whom had traveled from other cities across Iran — reported to Evin. Following a period of interrogation, authorities officially arrested him.
In an interview with Kaleme website a day before his arrest, Abdi spoke out against the imprisonment of teachers who had taken part in protests. “By executing the verdict against Alireza Hashemi Sanjani, the general secretary of the Teachers’ Association, in a volatile climate, the regime sent several clear messages to teachers. Authorities arrested Sanjani in April. He remains in prison.
"In addition," Abdi said, "summoning Rasul Bodaghi, a member of the executive board of the teacher’s union, from Rajaee Shahr’s prison to Evin’s public prosecution office, applying heavier security pressures on him and accusing him of new offences, is totally unacceptable.” He said Bodaghi’s imprisonment was not only having a detrimental effect on Bodaghi, but also on his family and other teachers.
“The public prosecution office did not allow his family, his active unionist colleagues or his attorney to meet him in prison. It is six years now since Judge Salavati issued the verdict against Rasul Bodaghi — he has not been allowed even one day’s furlough.”
Abdi regularly posted comments on his Facebook page about the plight of teachers and the government’s failure to address endemic problems in the education system. His Facebook page has recently been deactivated.
Incompetence and Chaos
He criticized the government for its appointment of “incompetent ministers” and the education ministry’s failure to provide an appropriate pay structure for teachers. Educators, he said, were paid such meager salaries that many were living “below the official poverty line,” without access to insurance. And they have increasingly been forced to deal with a range of serious problems — including violence, students being injured on school trips, and outdated facilities and buildings; some have even had to cope with fires breaking out at schools. At they same time, their status in society has diminished. In an environment where education had become a commodity, Abdi said, teachers were undervalued and the education system was in chaos.
During Abdi’s time as secretary, the Teachers’ Trade Union organized two large national demonstrations, which they referred to as “silent gatherings.” Activists called for the release of imprisoned teachers, protested against low pay and wage discrimination, and demanded an increase in the Ministry of Education’s budget.
On the day of his arrest, Abdi's colleagues protested outside the prosecutor’s office, holding up placards that read, “We are all Abdi,” and insisting that they would not disperse until Abdi was freed. They eventually agreed to break up the protest after one of their representatives was allowed to visit Abdi inside the prison. During the meeting, Abdi apparently told the representative hat his fellow activists should leave the premises and stop their demonstration.
“We decided to take the necessary steps for Abdi’s release and the release of other imprisoned teachers, including Rasul Bodaghi, Mahmoud Baqeri, Aliakbar Baghani and Alireza Hashemi Sanjani,” a union activist spokesperson said.
The Kaleme website reported that the Ministry of Information had previously summoned Abdi after a teacher’s protest that took place on May 7. “He was told to resign from his position as general secretary, and was threatened with arrest if he did not,” the report said.
According to Kaleme, Abdi had been critical of parliamentarians on Facebook, who, in his view, were being “opportunistic” in the run up to next year’s parliamentary elections. He had argued that many MPs had remained silent about violations under former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but these same MPs were now casting themselves as teachers’ advocates to win votes. Teachers were infuriated, he said, with the way education had been politicized in Iran. Many activists, he said, saw it as their duty to ensure divisive politics did not damage the country’s education system.
Read the original article in Persian
To read more stories like this, sign up to our weekly email.