Concessions from Prison Authorities Put an End to Abdolreza Ghanbari’s Hunger Strike

Posted on: November 15th, 2018

Human Rights Activist News Agency (HRANA) – Prompted by his loved ones and a promise from authorities to transfer him back to Evin Prison, teacher and political prisoner Abdolreza Ghanbari has begun eating again after five days of hunger strike.

Ghanbari had announced he was starving himself in protest of his forced transfer from Evin’s Ward 8 to Rajai Shahr Prison on November 10th. In a previous HRANA report on Ghanbari’s hunger strike, a close source remarked that the transfer seemed arbitrary.

In a note announcing the end of his strike, Ghanbari wrote, “moved by the words of my loved ones to end my hunger strike, I have relieved them of their worries. The persistence of my spouse and my attorney have ended in a promise from officials to return me to Evin, as per my request, as soon as possible.”

What was once a 10-year sentence for Ghanbari was increased to a 15-year term in September of 2017, per reconsideration proceedings led by Judge Moghiseh in Branch 28 of Revolutionary Court. After presenting himself to the Evin Prosecutor’s Office on October 13th of this year, Ghanbari was escorted to Evin Prison’s Ward 8 by security forces.

CCTSI Rallies Teachers into Second Round of Strikes

Posted on: November 15th, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA)- The Coordinating Council of Teacher Syndicates in Iran (CCTSI) rallied educators across the country into a second round of general strikes November 13th, mobilizing in protest of the “Full-Time Teacher” bill, which continues to move forward despite significant pushback.

Strike activity was reported in several provinces, as teacher-activists and their allies staged sit-ins in the principal’s offices of their respective schools. “The goal of the sit-in,” a CCTSI statement read, “is to oblige our rulers to uphold the constitution by providing free, quality, and accessible education to students, and to stop their attack on the livelihood of teachers.”

CCTSI and their sympathizers voiced similar demands during a first round of strikes in October of this year.

Teachers made their demands known on handheld placards protesting low teacher salaries, environmental conditions unsuitable for learning, the Full-Time Teacher Bill, class discrimination in the education system, privatization, language discrimination, and the continued persecution of teacher-activists.

From Evin Prison, Vice President of the Centre for Human Rights Defenders Narges Mohammadi sent a message in support of the strikers:

“The children of this land learn “D E C E N C Y” from their teachers, and a teacher’s [decency] manifests in free expression and conscience.

The children of this land learn “P E A C E” and “F U L F I L L M E N T” from their teachers, and their teachers’ fulfillment lies in a humane, dignified life.

We support the teachers’ general strike of November 13 and 14, to free the fettered “T E A C H E R,” to elevate the teacher’s status, and preserve the right to peaceful protest.

Narges Mohammadi”

Masoud Kazemi and Hashem Khastar Released from Custody

Posted on: November 14th, 2018

Human Rights Activist News Agency (HRANA) – Journalist Masoud Kazemi was released on bail Sunday, November 11th. He was arrested in his home November 5th, one day after tweeting critical remarks about Iranian authorities. Kazemi is the editor-in-chief of Sedaye Parsi, a monthly political magazine.

Retired teacher and current union activist Hashem Khastar, who was arrested and sequestered in Mashhad’s Ibn Sina hospital psychiatric ward for unknown reasons October 23rd, was released November 10th. He has no history of mental illness.

Hashem Khastar

During his forced hospital admission, Khastar’s family and friends were arrested for gathering outside Ibn Sina to demand his release.

On June 21, 2018, Khastar was placed in a Security Police detention center on Abbas Abad (formerly Vozara) street for participating in silent teacher protests. In 2009, he was arrested in connection to widespread protests following that year’s Iranian presidential elections and was fined by Iranian courts for two letters he wrote from Vakilabad Prison. He was released, only to be arrested again later for refusing to pay the fine.

Hashem Khastar’s Supporters Released from Custody

Posted on: November 7th, 2018

Human Rights Activist News Agency (HRANA) – Twelve individuals demonstrating their support of Hashem Khastar outside Ibn Sina Hospital in Mashhad were reportedly released a few hours after being taken into custody on Monday, November 5th, a close source said.

By arresting the demonstrators, intelligence agents were intercepting their protest of an increasingly curious hostage situation: Iranian authorities have kept Khastar cloistered in the hospital’s psychiatric ward since arresting him for unknown reasons on October 23rd.

Khastar’s detention caused a stir among his family members and fellow activists, eventually inspiring a social-media call for his supporters to gather outside Ibn Sina.

After arresting the 12 would-be protestors, a close source told HRANA, intelligence agents attempted to get their signatures on a set of legal documents, which they refused. “The intelligence officers then negotiated with Mr. Khastar’s wife,” the source continued. “Finally, promising that Mr. Khastar’s situation would be clarified within the next 24 hours, they released all 12 [of them].”

Khastar’s spouse Sadigeh Maleki Fard, his children Jahed and Ahmad Khastar, and his fellow teachers Hadi Lotfinia and Mohammad Yazdi were among those detained.

It has now been 14 days since the IRGC snatched the retired teacher and union activist from his home, sending him by ambulance into psychiatric “care” despite his clean bill of mental health. A source previously pointed HRANA to the circumstances of his arrest: “…His unlocked car and all its contents were abandoned in front of the gate to his orchard.”

A recent arrest during silent teacher protests on June 21, 2018, landed Khastar, 65, in a Security Police detention center on Abbas Abad (formerly Vozara) street. In 2009, he was arrested in connection to widespread protests following that year’s Iranian presidential elections and was fined by Iranian courts for two letters he wrote from Vakilabad Prison. He was released, then arrested again later for refusing to pay the fine.

Authorities Quash Show of Support for Sequestered Teacher Hashem Khastar

Posted on: November 7th, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA)- The wife, children, and colleagues of teachers’ union activist Hashem Khastar, 65, who was forcibly hospitalized on October 23, 2018, in Mashhad, were detained by agents of the Intelligence Ministry on Monday, November 5th.

More than 10 of Khastar’s supporters were arrested while convening in front of Ebn-Sina hospital, where Khastar remains detained in the psychiatric ward despite having no history of mental illness. They have been transferred to the Intelligence Bureau of Mashhad.

HRANA has thus far been able to confirm the identities of five arrestees: Sadigheh Maleki Fard (Khastar’s wife), Jahed Khastar and Ahmad Khastar (Khastar’s sons), and colleagues “Mr. Lotfinia” and “Mr. Yazdi.”

According to a close source, authorities were quick to head off their show of solidarity. “Security agents were already present at the hospital prior to the protesters’ arrival and had blocked the roads leading up to it. Khastar’s family were arrested as soon as they arrived. Several other individuals — teachers and colleagues of Mr. Khastar — were arrested throughout the day until 5:30 PM.”

Arrestees were reportedly booked at the police station before being handed over to Ministry of Intelligence custody.

Mashhad is the capital of Razavi Khorasan province, located in Iran’s northeast.

Teacher Activist of Sound Mind Sequestered in Psych Ward

Posted on: October 26th, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA)- Retired teacher and current teacher’s union member Hashem Khastar, who has no history of mental illness, was arrested in front of his garden on the evening of Tuesday, October 23rd and dispatched by ambulance to Mashhad’s Ibn Sina Hospital Psychiatric Ward.

Khastar’s family were suspicious and worried, a close source said, when they came home Tuesday to find his car unlocked in front of the house. On a Wednesday phone call — his first contact with his family since the arrest — Khastar said that the Intelligence Unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) had arrested and admitted him to the hospital for reasons they wouldn’t disclose.

According to the source, Khastar’s family were initially forbidden by security agents from visiting him in the ward but were more recently able to obtain that permission through coordination with authorities. Khastar — who declared hunger strike earlier today, October 25th, demanding to see his wife — explained during her visit the details of his arrest: “They brought some articles of my clothing into the ambulance, took me straight to the hospital, and put shackles on my feet.”

It is rumored that this puzzling detainment was ordered by the prosecutor’s office. As of the date of this report, no further information is available on the reasons behind Khastar’s arrest.

A recent arrest during silent teacher protests on June 21, 2018, landed Khastar, 65, in a Security Police detention center on Abbas Abad (formerly Vozara) street. In 2009, he was arrested in connection to widespread protests following that year’s Iranian presidential elections and was fined by Iranian courts for two letters he wrote from Vakilabad Prison. He was released, then arrested again later for refusing to pay the fine.

Mashhad is the capital of Razavi Khorasan province, located in Iran’s northeast.

Fed-up Teachers Confront Rouhani by Post

Posted on: October 24th, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA)- The Iranian Teachers’ Organization has written a letter to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to underline a number of the contentions that pushed teachers to strike in recent weeks.

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

Dear Mr. Rouhani, President of Iran,

Teachers and school staff have been among the most vocal advocates of your administration, which has adopted a rhetoric of moderation and prudence. In your promise they have invested their hopes and labor, entrusting the helm of this country to you. Yet the educational system and its institutions have tumbled low on your list of priorities. Should this trend carry on, hope alone will not be viable.

How long?
How long will we be able to argue with peaceful, dignified means — through democratic and civic activism — that education is critical to the balanced and comprehensive advancement of our country?

How long must we emphasize that education is not second to a safe and healthy Iran, but rather its prerequisite?

How long must we belabor the fact written into the Educational Outlook, that the replacement of low-quality products with top-of-the-line imports is impossible in the realm of our country’s human resources?

How long are we doomed to argue patiently, host conferences, and author articles about teachers who, feeling that their very livelihoods are at stake, will no longer be able to educate our country’s children with ingenuity and sound minds?

How long must we remind you of the impact that the honorable work of teachers has on our workforce and families? How long will we have to shout about the systems in advanced countries, that have wisely grounded their progress and development in education, and ensured that their teachers are held in the same esteem as government ministers, security, and diplomats?

Don’t you know?
Don’t you know that many of our colleagues live under the poverty line?
Don’t you know that uncurbed inflation and price hikes have afflicted teachers’ lives and significantly diminished their purchasing power?
Have you any idea of the insurmountable challenge facing principals directing schools with this dwindling per capita funding?

What we know
We know that the government’s revenue has increased from the rise in oil sales and currency exchange rates.

We know that the government’s income has grown from taxes like the Value-added tax (VAT) that have been tacked onto the high cost of living.

We know that the law allows for salary and other benefit increases under extenuating circumstances.

If you are unaware of the problems and the solutions, woe are we; if you are aware but cannot, or will not do anything about them, woe to you.

It appears you believe everything is as it should be: teachers articulating their predicament with patience and humility, the exemplars of civic demonstration.

Yet we are certain that recent events, widespread protests, and teachers’ lowered thresholds of tolerance could spell ongoing protests and turmoil for our education system.

We pray that you take this warning seriously, and in coordination with parliament and the Ministry of Education will pass the necessary orders to find radical structural solutions to the host of issues flooding our education system, in order to prevent further damage to our beloved country.

Iranian Teachers’ Organization
October 19, 2018

*

The general teachers’ strikes that took place on October 14th and 15th across many provinces in Iran were the follow-up to a call to action from teachers’ associations protesting low wages, and for the release of imprisoned teachers like Mohammad Habibi, Esmaeil Abdi, and Mahmoud Beheshti Langeroudi.

Once-Buried Case Pulls Abdolreza Ghanbari Back to Evin Prison

Posted on: October 20th, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – Teacher and former political prisoner Abdolreza Ghanbari was arrested Saturday, October 13th, and transferred to Ward 8 of Evin Prison to serve the remainder of a recently-resurrected prison term.

Amid re-reviews and permutations of his case under a changing penal code, Ghanbari has been pulled through the judicial wringer since his initial arrest in 2009, when he was detained in his workplace amid widespread “Ashura” demonstrations following the contentious Iranian election cycle of that year.

In February 2010, after two months of interrogation, Judge Salavati of Revolutionary Court Branch 15 sentenced him to death for “Moharebeh” [enmity against God],” through his alleged ties to the opposition group People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MEK).

Four years later, in June 2013, Ghanbari’s death sentence was reversed in Supreme Court and commuted to 15 years’ imprisonment by Revolutionary Court Branch 1.

When Article 186 of the Islamic Penal Code was eliminated, Ghanbari requested and obtained a retrial, which resulted in the suspension of his sentence. He was released March 16, 2016 after having served more than six years in prison.

The return to normal life was relatively short-lived, as a close source explained to HRANA: “In September 2017, his prison sentence was reviewed again by Branch 28 of [Tehran’s] Revolutionary Court, presided by Judge Moghiseh, and increased from 10 years to 15 years in prison.”

Ghanbari’s new scheduled release date has yet to be confirmed by HRANA.

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.

Open Letter: the Lesson of Imprisoned Teachers

Posted on: September 29th, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – The September 23rd kickoff to this new Iranian school year underlines the absence of a number of Iranian teachers from the classroom, who instead of welcoming a new cohort of students are waiting for their judicial reckoning in prison.

Teachers across the country are serving long sentences or getting lashings for their political and union activism, case developments of which were previously reported by HRANA.

In an open letter titled “The Sound of Freedom,” political prisoner Majid Asadi of Ward 10 in Rajai Shahr Prison, located in Karaj, a northwest suburb of Tehran, pays tribute to these educators, taking from their plight a lesson for the country at large.

The full text of Asadi’s letter is below, translated into English by HRANA:

The Sound of Freedom

The bell rings on September 23rd, announcing the first day of classes. It resonates over empty classroom benches. Sara and Fatemeh are selling flowers at the crossroads. A week ago, they saw Ali and Kamran selling fortunes at the park. The class is quiet. No word from the teacher. The teacher is absent.

“Where is Narges?” somebody asks.

“Her father is in prison, so she won’t come to school this year,” a friend responds.

What proper class can go on without its teacher and students?

“Kids belong in the classroom; nothing should stop them from attending school,” the teacher used to say. When those kids couldn’t afford books and supplies: “They didn’t decide to stop coming one day. No, they didn’t choose poverty and misfortune.” That’s what the teachers would say, back then.

The bell rings on September 24th, the second day of classes. The bell summons kids to a class with no teacher. He has not yet returned. He never will. He won’t be teaching a single class period, because this year, the school bell rings in prison. The teacher transforms his cell into a classroom. He did not want the classroom benches to be empty. He will despair when he learns that Narges, Sara, and Fatemeh aren’t coming to school this year. He will be tormented when he understands that Ali and Kamran can no longer attend.

He will be upset to hear that his colleague nods off in his classes each day, because he stays up late working as the night janitor. Talk of his imprisoned fellow teachers upsets him even further.

“With the teacher in prison and the students wandering the streets, what of learning, of lessons, of school?”

The teachers and students ask these questions of each other.

A third bell rings. The sound of freedom: its reverberations bring the classroom to a frenzy.

Why is the teacher in prison? Why aren’t the students at school? Who put the teacher in jail? Could it be that they imprisoned the teacher so that the students wouldn’t come to school?

If that’s the case, maybe they should imprison the students too; or convert the school into a prison so that the students are not left without a teacher, and so they won’t have to fret over the cost of school supplies.

Neither the teacher nor the student chose poverty; neither the teacher nor the student chose prison.

The hand that wants to erect a prison in the place of a school — the one ready to exchange education and happiness for poverty — must be cut. And the teacher who set out to do so never returned. In that moment, he gave us a lesson.

The teacher told the students, “We shouldn’t have to live in fear all the time. Once we set about our mission, our fear will leave us.”

And so the teacher set about his mission — so that his fear would leave him, he left to put an end to poverty and prison, to set the school free. The homework for all classes this year is freedom.

This is the lesson the teacher has taught.

Majid Asadi
Gohardasht [Rajai Shahr] Prison
Wednesday, September 26, 2018