Two Days of Teacher Strikes Knock at Reform’s Door

Posted on: October 16th, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA)- Last week’s plea from the Coordinating Council of Teachers Syndicates in Iran (CCTSI) brought together the voices of learners, educators, and ideologues in a second day of strikes against privatization, minority-language discrimination, judicial persecution of teacher-activists, and educator salaries grazing the poverty line.

In a statement last week, the CCTSI censured the Ministry of Education for its compensation system, decrying the status quo as detrimental to both educational quality and the livelihood of teachers. In the same statement, educational staff across the country were summoned to fill the administrative offices of their local schools with sit-in protests on October 14th and October 15th [the first two days of the Iranian work week]. CCTSI also urged prospective strikers to sensitize students to civic action by explaining the motives for the sit-in ahead of time.

“On behalf of workers in the education system both active and retired, CCTSI has exhausted available paths for bettering our current conditions,” the statement read, concluding their defiant call to strike with an entreaty not to penalize its participants.

Iranian teachers staged sit-ins both yesterday and today, October 15th across the provinces of Fars, Razavi Khorasan, North Khorasan, Kermanshah, Kurdistan, Ilam, East and West Azerbaijan, Mazandaran, Tehran, Isfahan, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad Province, Hamedan, Qazvin, Bushehr, Alborz, Lorestan, and Khuzestan.

Strikers held placards emblazoned with their hopes for reform: “Free Imprisoned Teachers,” “No to Discrimination”, “Keep Education Public,” “The Right to Mother-Tongue Instruction,” “Implement Teacher Ranking.”

Teachers and pedagogical staff were reportedly joined in solidarity today and yesterday by students in the social science departments of Tehran and Allameh Tabataba’i University, as well as school-age students of Karaj, Ahvaz, and Qom.

Narges Mohammadi, deputy head of the Defenders of Human Rights Center, issued a message in support of the strikers: “No one should be persecuted for organizing legal and non-violent strikes. As a civil activist and advocate, I back the national teachers’ strike and demand the release of the striking teachers.”

Tehran MP Mahmoud Sadeghi published a note on Monday supporting the teachers’ right to strike, and Member of Parliamentary Education Committee Member Davood Mohammadi publicly acknowledged that teachers in recent years have been challenged with increasing economic hardship, saying “they can not meet demands of their families.”

Meanwhile, further from the action, a number of imprisoned teachers could only attend strikes in spirit, and authorities are drawing up charges against detained CCTSI Chairman Mohammadreza Ramezanzadeh. To be sure, the CCTSI call — heartening though it was — has yet to be answered at the policy level.

Labor Activist Zanyar Dabbaghian Still in Custody One Week Later

Posted on: October 15th, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – It has been one week since six security agents stormed the home of labor activist and Sanandaj resident Zanyar Dabbaghian, arresting him and transferring him to an undisclosed location.

Without providing a reason for his arrest, security agents reportedly searched Dabbaghian’s home on October 8th and confiscated some of his family’s belongings, including their mobile phones. Despite persistent inquiries, Dabbaghian’s family remains in the dark about his fate.

Dabbaghian was previously arrested and interrogated by intelligence forces of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). He is employed at a plastic factory in Sanandaj-e Do Industrial Estate.

Sanandaj is the capital of Kurdistan Province.

Trucker Strikes: Threat of Death Penalty Casts Shadow on 261 Detainees

Posted on: October 15th, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA)- Since Iranian truck drivers announced a new wave of strikes on September 22nd, 261 striking drivers in 19 different provinces have been arrested. As authorities threaten detainees with the worst, their tenacious movement continues to push forward, obtaining small victories along the way.

Iranian General Prosecutor Mohammad Jafar Montazeri recommended harsh punishment for the detained drivers, previously assessing the strikes as a form of banditry, which he iterated “can be punishable by death.” Ghazvin Prosecutor Mohsen Karami announced that 17 of the detained drivers were being charged with “creating insecurity” and “disturbing public order,” and has called for the death penalty.

In a press release, the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) expressed concern over these threats. “ITF affiliates globally are urging the Iranian government to listen to their truckers’ demands. It is economic solutions that are needed. Not threats of executions.” Transportation unions in the US and Canada, along with multiple news agencies and international federations, have gone public with similar concerns and statements of solidarity with the truckers.

Strikers’ demands have, in some respects, made significant headway. The High Council of Transportation Coordination recently approved a measurement tool for freight transport rates known as the tonne-kilometre (tkm) method, which would ensure more regulated compensation. “Adopting the tonne-kilometer system[…] put an end to 40 years of dispute between truck drivers and companies,” Malek Nakhyi, one of the drivers who will put the new system to use, told Tasnim news agency. “This measure will be a blessing to the Iranian transport industry.”

In talks with news agencies, state authorities claim to already have resolved the tire shortage, i.e. one of the truckers’ most pressing demands. However, Head of the Truckers’ Guild Association Ahmad Karimi told Iran Labour News Agency (ILNA) that only 50 thousand tires have thus far been distributed into a market that is in urgent need of 300 thousand more. “One of the truck drivers’ issues [with the system] is that the tires have no fixed price on the market, and representatives [of tire producers] set the price arbitrarily,” he added.

One truck driver told HRANA that a channel in Bandar Abbas ran a “false” broadcast of customs officials inspecting tires purchased in Iraq and Azerbaijan, with the claim that it was footage of tires being distributed to drivers.

The Truckers’ Guild Association listed 15 demands in its call to strike on September 22nd, among them an increase in pensions, the lowering of tire and auto-part prices, a 70% increase in the freight rate, cheaper insurance premiums, the elimination of go-betweens at terminals, and punishment of officers who arbitrarily demand bribes from drivers.

Merchant Arrested Amid Rumors of Impending Market Strike

Posted on: October 13th, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA)- Security forces in Tabriz arrested Azerbaijani activist Mohammad Abdolmohammad-Zadeh Namrour on Wednesday, October 10, 2018, and transferred him to an undisclosed location.

An informed source speculated to HRANA that Namrour, a manufacturer in the Tabriz shoe market, was arrested in anticipation of the shoe market’s upcoming strike. This connection has yet to be confirmed.

Urban bazaars across Iran are the site of increasingly frequent strikes among merchants fed up with the symptoms of the current recession, including an unstable currency exchange, rising prices, and inflation.

Tabriz is located in northwestern Iran.

Prisoner of Conscience Voices Support for Striking Truckers

Posted on: October 12th, 2018

Human Rights Activist News Agency (HRANA) – Rajai Shahr prisoner of conscience Ebrahim Firoozi has written an open letter in support of Iranian truck drivers, who authorities have arrested in droves since they began striking September 22nd.

As the trucker strikes approach their 21st consecutive day, 261 arrestees face “corruption on earth,” “disrupting public order”, and “robbery” charges. As the country’s top prosecutor Mohammad Jafar Montazeri has emphasized to strikers, some of these charges carry the death penalty.

In his letter, Firoozi tells authorities that continued arrests “won’t stop truck drivers from pursuing their rights,” and criticizes them for “arresting the drivers rather than solving problems rooted in [authorities’] incompetence and lack of foresight.” The truckers are demanding more affordable truck parts, better compensation, and a crackdown on bribery in the industry.

Firoozi, a Christian convert, has a long history of imprisonment due to his religious activities, including a September 16, 2013 arrest. He was convicted in Spring 2016 of “forming a group with intent to disrupt national security” by Judge Moghiseh in Tehran Revolutionary Court Branch 28. Tehran Appeals court later upheld his five-year prison sentence.

Teachers’ Association Sounds Call to General Strike on October 14th & 15th

Posted on: October 12th, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA)- The Coordinating Council of Teachers Syndicates in Iran (CCTSI) has issued a statement critical of the Ministry of Education, drawing public attention to a trend of paltry compensation for teachers.

The statement calls for teachers and other pedagogical staff to stage sit-ins in the administrative offices of schools this coming October 14th and October 15th [the work week in Iran runs from Saturday to Thursday]. It also asks teachers to sensitize students by explaining to them in advance the civic impetus behind the sit-ins to come.

The full text of their letter, translated into English by HRANA, is below:

Dear Iranian teachers,
Cherished students,
Esteemed parents,

Teachers both active and retired have been scraping by on painfully low wages for years. They protest cuts to school budget allocations and the unconstitutional shift of educational duties from the shoulders of schools to the shoulders of the people. Teachers have stood their ground in civic and community actions [on behalf of concerns] that officials never deign to acknowledge. No, it seems they are preoccupied with staying in power, defensively clutching their spoils. They think only of their own interests, those of their small inner circle, and those of some citizens in other countries.

Out-of-control inflation and climbing prices have gripped the country, and the purchasing power of teachers, like that of many other hard-working classes, has fallen significantly. What’s more, the cost of education is on the rise, and the Iranian government and parliament have failed to answer to teachers’ faltering quality of life and the ailing education system. The time has come for us to protest this systemic disorder.

All have come to feel that the Ministry of Education, as the face and custodian of this system encompassing millions of people, is without a practical program or vision for improving our educational infrastructure. Instead of attending to the quality of formation and to teachers’ livelihoods, the ministry opts increasingly for monetizing education and impoverishing teachers.

The Public Service Law, which was passed in 2007, has yet to be implemented 10 years later.

The bill on teacher ranking is postponed month after month.
The Teachers’ Savings Fund has been looted, and according to the Fund’s inquiry committee, 18 million tomans [approximately $1,200 USD] is missing from each teacher’s share.

Teacher’s salaries have not kept up with the rate of inflation, and in practice, a majority of teachers live below the poverty line. At the same time, there are fewer and fewer public schools, and those still in operation [depend on separate funding] to run.

The security apparatus and judiciary, rather than pursuing those responsible for corruption and the robbery of our society, prefer to threaten, exile, fire, and imprison teachers who express their needs and pursue justice.

On behalf of workers in the education system both active and retired, CCTSI has exhausted available paths for bettering our current conditions. Teachers have voiced their demands in meetings and letters to officials, published them in statements, launched them as campaigns, and hosted syndical rallies for them. But the regime and the government refuse to take even a single step towards addressing those issues.

Honorable People of Iran,
Imprudent Iranian officials,

We are going to stage sit-ins because teachers can’t go to class in these conditions. In any case, classes held in makeshift camps, overcrowded to the extreme, can hardly be put to any use.

For the reasons discussed above and the many others we have voiced before, CCTSI calls on educational staff of all levels across the country to stage sit-ins in the offices of their schools on Sunday, October 14 and Monday, October 15. We ask that they refuse to go to classes and that they raise students awareness on the factors compelling this initiative.

We ask the school principals to join in and to refrain from harsh treatment of our colleagues. We warn security offices and institutions not to retaliate against the teachers taking part in demonstrations. We have tasted detention and incarcerations, and some of our brave colleagues are still in chains today. We ask that you lay down your weapons of repression.

This October sit-ins are only the beginning: if we don’t see swift, constructive, and concrete changes to the pay slips of active and retired educational employees, and to per-capita funding of students, we will escalate our general strikes come November.

We ask our retired comrades to come visit their local colleagues carrying a flower. Employed colleagues who are off on [the strike days] must also join in, at a school close to their home or in the school where they work.
Teachers believe in the common right to a dignified life, and in access to free, fair, and quality education for all children.

The Coordinating Council of Teachers Syndicates in Iran
October 10th, 2018

Economic Frustrations Compel Merchants to Strike Nationwide

Posted on: October 9th, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA)- Over the course of the past few months, a 60-plus percentage drop in the value of the Iranian rial (toman) has plunged the residents of several cities into financial crisis. Across the country on Monday, October 8th, merchants fed up with recession, inflation, and steadily climbing prices shuttered up their shops and went on strike.

So far, strikes have been reported in the cities of Sanandaj, Tehran, Kermanshah, Andisheh, Iranshahr, Mashhad, Isfahan, Tabriz, Borazjan, Gorgan, Zanjan, Baneh, Marivan, Saghez, Arak, Chabahar, Hirmand, Konarak, Gorgab, Urmia, Zahedan, Kazerun, Genaveh, Parsabad Moghan, Sardasht, Piranshahr, Rafsanjan, Miandoab, Rasht, Paveh and Abhar.

The presence of security forces has palpably strained the atmosphere in many of the above cities, including Sanandaj, western Kurdistan province, which recently doubled down on its controls. The Kurdistan Chamber of Guilds has reportedly sent threatening text messages to local merchants in attempts to coerce them to end their strikes.

Head of the National Chamber of Guilds Ali Fazel confirmed to the Iran Student News Agency (ISNA) that shop-owners have suspended their operations in response to the recession and poor market conditions.

Iranian authorities have proven intolerant of prolonged strikes in the recent past. When merchants of several metropolitan bazaars shut down shop for the same reasons last July, the Tehran General and Revolutionary Prosecutor announced that many of the protesters had been imprisoned. More than 200 of the Iranian truckers who have been striking for the past 17 days have also been taken into custody.

Impending Appeals Hearing on Habibi Case

Posted on: October 8th, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – The Appellate Court of Tehran Province Branch 36 will convene October 25, 2018, to review the case of Mohammad Habibi, a teacher and union activist imprisoned since May 2018 for commemorating national teachers’ week.

Habibi’s lawyer Hossein Taj confirmed the news to HRANA. “We’re taking it as a good sign that they’ve assigned a date this soon,” he said. “We hope that the appeals judges consider our client’s upstanding character and the case for his defense, which would relieve, if only a little, the pain that’s plaguing the teaching community.”

On September 20th, HRANA’s English webpage announced that Habibi’s case had entered the appellate stage.

In direct violation of physician orders, Habibi has been denied medical attention since the beginning of his detention period. Taj said that Habibi has suffered from various health problems since being imprisoned, including a 22-pound weight loss, suspect kidney stones, and a severe lung infection causing pain in his rib cage, reportedly due to being beaten while in prison.

According to Taj, the nephrologist at Imam Khomeini hospital issued an order for Habibi’s urgent treatment, as he has kidney and urinary tract conditions that may require surgery. In face of the documented medical urgency, however, authorities have yet to clear him for even preliminary testing.

On the one occasion that Habibi’s request for medical leave was granted, he was released from Great Tehran Penitentiary, prematurely dismissed from the hospital without receiving treatment, and then transferred to Evin Prison on Monday, September 3, 2018, where he has remained since.

Habibi’s case – and particularly his compromised medical condition – recently drew the support of teacher’s organizations at home and abroad. In a letter addressed to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the French trade unions SFDT, SGT, FSO, Solidaires, and UNSA held the Supreme Leader accountable for Habibi’s fate and called his imprisonment a violation of both human rights and the fundamental freedoms of syndicates. In May 2018, General Secretary of Education International (EI) David Edwards vehemently denounced Habibi’s arrest and detention, demanding his immediate release in a letter to Iranian president Hassan Rouhani.

Iranians themselves have also called for Habibi’s release. In a statement signed by over 1,400 civil, political, union and teachers’ activists across Iran, Iranians protested Habibi’s sentence and called for greater solidarity with teachers and other workers in Iranian society.

On July 23rd, 2018, Judge Ahmadzadeh of Tehran Revolutionary Court sentenced Habibi to 10 and a half years’ imprisonment, i.e. seven and a half years for “national-security related Crimes,” 18 months for “propaganda against the regime”, and another 18 months for “disrupting public order.” In addition to prison terms, he was dealt a two-year ban from political and civic activities, a two-year travel ban, and 74 lashings.

Under Article 134 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code, which holds that prisoners are to serve the lengthiest of their sentences, Habibi’s sentence, if upheld, would put him behind bars for a maximum of seven and a half years, i.e. the heaviest one of his three sentences.

Habibi is a member of the board of directors for the Teachers’ Union Association of Tehran Province.

A letter from his HR office confirmed he is no longer receiving his salary.

Iranian Trucker Strikes Push into Second Straight Week

Posted on: October 8th, 2018

Human Rights Activist News Agency (HRANA) – As they make it past the two-week mark, Iranian trucker strikes look nowhere near relenting, and authorities are taking notice.

As of the date of this report, 244 individuals have been arrested in connection to trucker strikes across multiple cities, including but not limited to Shahr-e Kord, Bandar-e Imam Khomeini, Ahvaz, Susangerd, Najaf Abad, Isfahan, Shiraz, Bushehr, Aligudarz, Urmia, Yazd, Zarrin Shahr, Bandar Abbas, Tiran, Miyaneh, Behshahr and Ghuchan.

While broadcasts from state-sponsored news agencies declared on October 6th that the protests were losing steam, the truckers have yet to back down. The same day, the General and Revolutionary Prosecutor of Shahr-e Kord announced that six more protestors had been detained.

Prior to October 6th, 238 individuals connected with the strike had already been detained and booked on charges of corruption on earth, disturbing public order, and banditry. Prosecutor Mohammad Jafar Montazeri previously threatened the detainees with heavy sentences, reminding them that their charges are punishable by death. Strikers in multiple provinces are taking the risk: Qazvin, Alborz, Ardabil, Isfahan, Fars, Semnan, Kermanshah, Zanjan, Hamadan, Northern Khorasan, and cities of Nahavand, Bujnurd, Kangan, Pakdasht, Nishabur, Shirvan, Azarshahr, Gorgan, Bandar-e Gaz, Izeh, Razan, and Zaran provinces have seen arrests so far.

At a ceremony for the opening of a tunnel connecting Karaj to Chalus, Minister of Roads and Urban Development Abbas Akhoundi acknowledged truck drivers’ role in the construction of the tunnel, telling a reporter, “the demands of the truck drivers will definitely be addressed.”

The Ministry of Roads and Urban Development showed less compassion toward the strikers in an October 6th response to Tehran-based Friday prayer imam Kaze Sadeghi, who stated that the Ministry should answer to their responsibilities and address the issue rather than “saying irrelevant things.” The Ministry’s retort statement read, “truck drivers are hardly struggling.”

In an interview with Mehr news agency, Deputy Head of the Iran Road Maintenance and Transportation Organization (IRMTO) Dariush Amani spoke of his organization’s initiative to meet drivers’ demands for tires, including cheaper import prices on cotton-based tires. “Tires have been placed on the list of essential items which will henceforth be imported at the government-subsidized price of 4200 Tomans [$1 USD].”

Ali Khaneghai, a general manager of the Sistan and Baluchestan provincial transportation and terminals department, acknowledged that high tire prices were one of the industry’s most dire needs, and claimed that 1200 subsidized tires have been distributed to drivers. “The drivers can purchase tires at fair prices through the Ministry of Industry, Mine and Trade with the presentation of their welcome letter from the Driver’s Union.”

Ahmad Jamshidi, Transportation and Terminals Manager of Chahar Mahal and Bakhtiyari province, also commented on tire influx, stating that 2711 tires had thus far been distributed among regional truckers.

HRANA previously reported on authorities’ reactions to the truckers’ continued strikes, which have been active since September 23rd. On that date, the Iran National Truck Driver’s Trade Union called on truckers to cease their operations until authorities fulfilled a list of 15 conditions, including an increase in pensions, a decrease in part prices, a 70-percent increase in wages, a decrease in insurance premiums, and a crackdown on bribery in the industry.

Stakes and Arrests Climb Higher as Truckers’ Strike Enters 11th Day

Posted on: October 2nd, 2018

Human Rights Activist News Agency (HRANA) – The Iranian truckers’ strike entered its eleventh day on Tuesday, October 2nd, catching fire in additional cities where 15 more were arrested and public prosecutors have begun threatening participants with the death penalty. The total number of arrestees is now at 171.

Cities currently host to strike activity and its corollary transport stoppages include Tehran, Isfahan, Arak, Qom, Bandar Abbas, Sirjan, Mashhad, Yazd, Tabriz, Sari, Kashan, Bukan, Khosroshah, Dezful, Rezvanshahr, Karaj, Dorood, Marvdasht, Garmsar, Khorramabad, Meshkat, Naqadeh, Malayer, Bandar Imam Khomeini, Ardakan, Sirjan, Shahr Babak, Shirvan, Sanandaj, Gorgan, Shahroud, and Zarinshahr.

Police Commander of Kangan county Colonel Rezaei confirmed that two people in his jurisdiction had been arrested and had their vehicles seized. Heydar Asiyayi, Semnan Province’s General and Revolutionary Prosecutor, confirmed 11 arrests in his locality, as did Alireza Mazaheri, police commander of North Khorasan province. According to the Prosecutor of Razan County, Hamedan Province, said seven more drivers have been arrested and charged with “acting against national security.”

Hadi Mostafavi (General and Revolutionary Prosecutor in Nahavand, Hamedan Province) and Ali Pakdel (police chief of Bojnord, Northern Khorasan Province) recently confirmed that four people had been arrested in each of their respective cities. Eighty-one citizens had already been arrested this past week in the provinces of Qazvin, Alborz, Ardebil, Isfahan, and Fars, as well as in Pakdasht Country, Tehran province.

Arrestees in the latter-named regions stand charged with both “disrupting order and security” and a second charge that has been known to carry the death penalty: Qata al-Tariq, i.e. “banditry” or highway robbery.

Iran’s National Prosecutor Mohammad Jafar Montazeri evoked Qata al-Tariq as a charge that could potentially be leveraged against the strikers. He was echoed by Fars Province Judiciary Head Ali Alghasimehr, who added that strikers were exposing themselves to charges of “corruption on earth,” also punishable by death.

Kerman Province’s Revolutionary and General Prosecutor Dadkhoda Salari also reminded truckers of how high the stakes of their strike might go, saying “anything that disrupts public order could be considered enmity against god or corruption on earth, based on the article 286 of the Islamic Penal code.”

Death threats from on high continued into Monday when Judiciary head Sadeq Larijani ominously put truckers on guard that they “disrupt[ing] roadway security.”

Strikes have been active since September 23rd when the Iran National Truck Driver’s Trade Union called on truckers to cease their operations until authorities fulfilled a list of 15 conditions, including an increase in pensions, a decrease in part prices, a 70-percent increase in wages, a decrease in insurance premiums, and a crackdown on bribery in the industry.

HRANA has been able to confirm the strike’s disruption of usual commercial activity, per interviews with industry professionals: Head of Tehran Poultry Farm Union Mohammad Yousefi recently stated that food prices have risen as a result of the strike, due to stalled cross-country transports of chicken meat, while a group of Afghan merchants complained that the strike has stalled the transport of their goods to Afghanistan.

According to Minister of Industry, Mine, and Trade Mohammad Shariatmadari, the truckers’ long-awaited supply of tires is already available thanks to improved distribution via the Iran Road Maintenance and Transportation Organization (IRMTO), a subsidiary of the Roads and Urban Planning Ministry. Soon, he predicted, 80 million dollars will be allocated to the import of tires every month.

According to previous comments from Deputy Head of IRMTO Daryoosh Amani, the Industry Ministry refused to fulfill truckers’ past demands for tires. Yet Seyyed Hassan Hosseini Shahroudi, vice-chair of parliament’s Economic Committee, imputed both the IRMTO and the Ministry of Roads and Urban Development for falling short of truckers’ needs. More than 153 MPs backed the truckers’ demands in a letter addressed to President Hassan Rouhani, which was recently read to parliament by Akbar Ranjzade, a member of the Islamic Consultative Assembly Presidium.

In another recent speech, Ranjzade delivered a double-edged message to a gathering of truck drivers in Asadbad, Hamedan province. In one breath he promised their demands would be addressed; in another, he made it known that they were flirting with capital punishment.