Protest wave continues to engulf Iran
Troubled nation: Iran’s flag flying over its capital city Tehran | AP

Very often, Iran makes international headlines vis-à-vis the debate over the Iran nuclear deal, the agreement reneged on by Donald Trump in 2018, a form of which U.S. President Joe Biden is seeking to resurrect.

The situation facing ordinary workers inside the country rarely breaks into the headlines of the international media.

Yet the level of civil unrest and subsequent repression by the Islamic Republic is not only newsworthy for its international ramifications, should it force a change in the regime, but for the extent of resistance taking place under what is essentially a theocratic dictatorship, which brooks no opposition to its core beliefs.

The level of violence this year has even prompted the United Nations to comment. Recently, UN human rights experts issued a statement condemning the “violent crackdown against civil society in Iran,” urging “those responsible for using excessive force to be held to account through comprehensive and independent investigations.”

The UN went on to condemn the “excessive use of force against protesters, with what appears to be an active policy to shield perpetrators and prevent accountability.”

The UN has been compelled to comment as, since May, hundreds of workers, teachers, and other activists have been arrested for peaceful protest. At least five protesters have been killed and the Iranian government has imposed internet shutdowns, as the protests have engulfed Iran.

The protests, which have been continuously sparking throughout Iran for months now, are strongly supported by the people, including civil and labor rights activists, and a few trade unions that are trying to work independently.

While workers in many sectors across Iran have participated in growing protests, teachers have been at the forefront of the current wave rocking the country.

Since late May, more than 230 teachers have been arrested by security forces throughout the country, including 23 who were summoned before the judiciary to face charges.

Protesters’ grievances have included sub-poverty-line wages as well as the arrest and imprisonment of their leaders, among other basic labor rights issues.

Prominent teachers’ rights advocates Rasoul Bodaghi and Jafar Ebrahimi have not been heard of for several weeks, after their arrests by Intelligence Ministry agents. They are being held in solitary confinement in Tehran’s Evin Prison where their families have been denied permission to visit them.

In addition, labor activists Anisha Asadollahi and her husband Keyvan Mohtadi were arrested on May 9 for acting as translators for two French members of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) who were invited to Iran by the Islamic Republic. Iran is a member of the ILO yet has consistently violated the ILO’s fundamental principles.

Despite the obvious injustices being perpetrated by the clerical regime, resistance continues inside the Islamic Republic’s prisons. Ten teachers have been on hunger strike since June 18 in Saqqez, western Iran, to protest against their unlawful detention.

Concerns continue to grow for the health and welfare of labor and trade union activists detained in prison in Iran.

Labour activist Valeh Zamani is being denied urgent medical care for hepatitis C, severe intestinal adhesions, and liver disease while being kept in solitary confinement and facing long and hard interrogations in Evin Prison.

The Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company (SWTSBC) has issued a statement demanding an end to the harassment of the families of its imprisoned activists, Reza Shahabi and Hassan Saeedi.

The statement condemns the pressure on the families of teachers, workers, and other detainees to make false confessions.

It goes on to demand “an immediate medical examination of Reza Shahabi and Hassan Saeedi and the unconditional release of all workers, teachers and other detainees in this case.”

Both Reza Shahabi and Hassan Saeedi have commenced hunger strikes, for 39 and 30 days respectively, in protest at the false allegations tabled against them by the regime as well as their continuing detention and poor treatment.

The current wave of protests and imprisonments is part of a pattern which has been consistently growing inside Iran over the past five years.

Over that period, the ruling theocratic dictatorship has been experiencing arguably the most acute and multidimensional crisis in its 40-year-plus reign — a crisis that shows no sign of abating any time soon.

It is estimated that around 45 percent of Iran’s population is under 35 years old. It is this generation that has turned their backs on anything remotely resembling the vision of the Islamic Republic’s founders and who comprise the system’s most ardent opponents.

This demographic group, having never known anything other than the Islamic Republic, demand a functioning and viable economy in which they can thrive.

These demands include real jobs; decent wages and prospects; as well as human and democratic rights, and political freedoms.

The fact that youth unemployment is currently estimated to be running at 30 to 60 percent in Iran, depending on the particular age group and locale concerned, only adds fuel to an already raging fire.

The sudden announcement of a triple-fold hike in the cost of petrol in November 2019 effectively lit the touchpaper for huge protests in cities and towns across Iran which the dictatorship’s security forces ruthlessly put down with lethal force, alongside a complete internet blackout that lasted for several days, effectively shutting the country off from the outside world.

At least 650 mainly young protesters were killed and disappeared by the regime.

The simmering widespread discontent has continuously manifested itself from the summer of 2020, with the country reeling from a collapsing economy and the disastrous handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The hugely popular and effective teachers’ protests are the latest example of this and are regarded as particularly significant in that they pertain to a youth-facing sector.

Essentially, the teachers’ demands and objectives are as much for the good of Iran’s students and future generations, as they are for the teaching and educating sector itself.

Global unions and teachers’ organizations, including Education International and the ITUC, have also expressed solidarity with the teachers in Iran and have written to the authorities there demanding that they respect the rights of the teachers and release all imprisoned teacher and union activists.

Independent trade unions remain unrecognized in the Islamic Republic despite Iran being a signatory to several key international treaties.

These include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which mandates (in Articles 21 and 22) freedom of association and guarantees the right to form trade unions; the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, which guarantees (in Article 8) the right of workers to form or join trade unions and protects their right to strike; and the International Labor Union’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles, which also guarantees these rights.

The Committee for Defense of the Iranian People’s Rights (CODIR) has called upon the labor and trade union movement internationally to rally around, and stand in solidarity with, the detained Iranian trade unionists and teachers.

CODIR is calling upon all those standing for human and democratic rights to write letters of protest to the Iranian authorities, via the diplomatic missions of the Islamic Republic of Iran, demanding the unconditional release of their innocent counterparts currently languishing in the theocratic regime’s prisons and detention centers.

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Jane Green
Jane Green

Jane Green is the national campaign officer of the UK-based CODIR, Committee for the Defence of the Iranian People's Rights.