Teachers Union Chief to Go on Trial for Peaceful Labor Activities
No Access to Counsel or Family Visits during 7-Month “Temporary Detention”
After nearly seven months of “temporary detention” without access to his lawyer or family visits, Esmail Abdi, Secretary General of the Teachers Association of Iran, will go on trial on January 30, 2016.
He will be tried for “propaganda against the state” and “assembly and collusion against national security” at Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court, presided over by the hardline Judge Salavati.
Labor activism in Iran is seen as a national security offense; independent labor unions are not allowed to function, strikers are often fired and risk arrest, and labor leaders are consistently prosecuted under catchall national security charges and sentenced to long prison terms.
A source close to the case informed the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that Abdi was arrested by agents from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Intelligence Organization on June 27, 2015, a week after he was stopped from traveling to an international conference in Canada. When he was taken to Evin Prison that day he asked why he was banned from leaving the country, and was told he had to be detained to answer a few questions in connection with the Teachers Association.
“Mr. Abdi has been in detention ever since. He was under intense interrogation for 15 hours a day for 45 days,” the source added.
In 2011, Abdi was found guilty of “propaganda against the state” and “revealing information about security matters” by a court in Islamshahr and sentenced by Judge Azarpour to ten years in prison; his prison sentence was suspended for five years. “That means if he had stopped all his activities for five years, the sentence would have been dropped,” the source told the Campaign. But a year later Abdi was elected Secretary General of the Teachers Association.
“There were no objections to his activities in the first two years. Then his role as secretary general came under scrutiny after the March 2015 gathering of teachers in front of Parliament. He started getting warnings and summonses from the Intelligence Ministry as well as the Islamic Revolutionary Guards. They told him he would be arrested if he continued his activities. At that point Mr. Abdi decided to resign from his position as secretary general. Although his resignation was rejected by the board, in reality he wasn’t active anymore. Even when the security forces complained about protest gatherings by teachers in April and May , Abdi told them he had no involvement in them.”
The year 2015 was marked by repeated and widespread teacher strikes and peaceful gatherings, with educators protesting against salaries that are below the official poverty rate and the imprisonment of their labor leaders for peaceful activism.
Since his arrest, Abdi’s salary and health insurance have been suspended. “His wife and three children would have experienced great hardship if the members of the Teachers Association had not collected donations for families of imprisoned teachers,” the source noted.
The Teachers Association issued a statement on January 9, 2016, criticizing the Judiciary for not allowing Abdi’s family to visit him in prison, nor releasing him on bail.
“The Abdi family, including his elderly parents, have gone to the Revolutionary Court numerous times without any success. The authorities are giving them the runaround and in the meantime his wife has to take care of their three children with empty hands,” the statement said.