CHRI – More than one thousand Iranian teachers have issued a statement calling for the release of a teacher imprisoned for peacefully advocating for teachers’ rights in the southern port city of Bushehr.
“We believe the authorities should stop looking at trade union activities as a security threat and unconditionally free Mohsen Omrani,” said the statement, signed by more than 1,600 teachers posted on the Telegram channel belonging to the Iranian Teachers Trade Association (ITTA) on July 20, 2017.
“We believe trade unionists and labor organizations should give full support to teachers who are fighting to improve the educational system and improve teachers’ livelihoods, especially in rural areas where teachers’ rights advocates are treated worse by security agencies that hound and persecute them,” continued the statement.
“Imprisoning Mohsen Omrani will not put a dent in our struggle for our professional and educational rights,” added the statement. “We will continue to insist that everyone, including teachers, have a respectable level of living. We insist on having a free and fair educational system with high quality standards.”
Omrani, 40, began serving a one-year sentence for “propaganda against the state” on May 3, 2017. He was arrested in the winter of 2016 by the Intelligence Ministry in Bushehr and released on bail after being interrogated for a month.
The teachers’ rights activist was initially sentenced to six years in prison in July 2016—five years for “membership in illegal groups” and one year for “propaganda against the state.” The Appeals Court threw out the conviction for “membership in illegal groups,” but upheld the sentence for “propaganda against the state” and banned Omrani from teaching for two years.
“We will use every civil and legal channel available to attain our rights and achieve our demands for ending the way security look at trade unions and freeing our incarcerated colleagues, especially Mohsen Omrani,” said the teacher’s statement.
When Omrani began serving his prison term in May 2017, his lawyer Amir Raeesian told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) that his client was cleared of the initial conviction for “membership in illegal groups” because the indictment did not identify the alleged groups.
“Mr. Omrani was only engaged in peaceful trade union activities,” said Raeesian. “He wanted to improve the living standards of teachers and workers.”
Independent unions are not allowed to operate in Iran, strikers often lose their jobs and risk arrest, and labor leaders who attempt to organize workers and bargain collectively are prosecuted under national security charges and sentenced to long prison sentences.
A photo shared on social media after his imprisonment shows Omrani at a gathering of teachers peacefully protesting the imprisonment of their colleagues, including former ITTA secretary general Esmail Abdi.
Since November 2016, Abdi has been serving a six-year prison sentence on charges of “propaganda against the state” and “collusion against national security” for his peaceful activism in support of labor rights. The verdict was upheld upon appeal, under pressure from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The ITTA was formed in 1998 during the reformist administration of President Mohammad Khatami. Since its creation, dozens of its members as well as independent teachers have been arrested and imprisoned for terms ranging from four to 15 years for peacefully defending teachers’ rights.