Downgraded Sentence for Teachers’ Rights Activist Issued Amid Ongoing Prosecution of Labor Leaders
Labor Activism Seen as National Security Offense in Iran
A senior member of the Iranian Teachers’ Trade Association (ITTA) has taken no solace in the downgrading of the three-month prison sentence issued to ITTA member Taher Ghaderzadeh to a suspended sentence.
“Some of my friends were happy about the light suspended sentence, but we must remember that these actions are aimed at silencing teachers,” said the senior ITTA member, who spoke to the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on condition of anonymity.
“In the case of Mr. Ghaderzadeh, he has been going back and forth to court for a year and a half, which means during that time he has not engaged in any [trade union] activities,” said the source. “And now, with a suspended sentence hanging over his head, he has to be more cautious.
“In effect, the authorities are unlawfully and unfairly treating trade union activities as crimes against national security,” added the source.
In April 2016, Branch 5 of the Saqqez Revolutionary Court in Kurdistan Province, northwestern Iran, sentenced Ghaderzadeh to 91 days in prison for “propaganda against the state” and “disturbing public peace.”
However, in early July 2017 the Saqqez Appeals Court suspended the prison sentence for three years.
A 50-year-old mathematics high school teacher in Saqqez, Ghaderzadeh was arrested in March 2016 for allegedly organizing protest rallies by teachers demanding better pay and working conditions.
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.
In May 2017, an online petition signed by more than 15,000 people calling for the release of imprisoned teachers’ rights leader Esmail Abdi was delivered to the judiciary and the office of President Hassan Rouhani.
“Mr. Abdi is not a thief, murderer, drug dealer, embezzler, foreign spy or traitor to his country,” said the petition addressed to Judiciary Chief Sadegh Larijani. “He is a trade union activist elected by the teachers of Tehran according to the laws and regulations of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
The former ITTA secretary general—who is serving a six-year prison sentence in Evin Prison for “propaganda against the state” and “collusion against national security”—went on a six-week hunger strike that ended on June 16, 2017 to demand an end to the prosecution of peaceful trade union activists on national security charges.