Iran — Judicial harassment of human rights defenders and members the Iranian Teachers’ Trade Associations (ITTA)

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Over the past months, ProtectDefenders.eu has received concerning information regarding the arbitrary arrests, detention and judicial harassment of human rights defenders members of the Iranian Teachers’ Trade Associations (ITTA), on charges of “propaganda activities against the state”, “gathering and collusion with the intention of disturbing the national security” and “spreading misinformation”.

On May 11, 2022, human rights defenders and members of the Iranian Teachers’ Trade Associations (ITTA) Marivan Branch, Masoud Nikkhah and Shaban Mohammadi were re-arrested in Marivan, Kurdistan province in Iran. The arrest of Masoud Nikkhah occurred in his house shortly after he was released after eleven days of detention. On May 1, 2022, Masoud Nikkhah was arrested together with human rights defender and the spokesperson of the Coordinating Council of the Iranian Teachers’ Trade Associations (CCITTA), Eskandar Lotfi.

On March 30, 2022, Eskandar Lotfi, Masoud Nikkhah and Shaban Mohmmadi were arrested in advance of the teachers’ peaceful gathering on Iranian Teachers’ Day. The human rights defenders had been threatened not to take part in the teachers’ gathering of 1 May 2022. Eskandar Lotfi and Masoud Nikkhah were first transferred to Marivan prison and then to the security ward of Sanandaj prison, run by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRCG) intelligence services. While Shaban Mohammadi was released the following day, the other two human rights remained detained. During the teachers’ peaceful gathering of 1 May 2022, Shaban Mohammadi was forcefully taken into a shop, physically assaulted by security forces and detained again from noon until 7pm the same day.

The arrests of the human rights defenders occurred in the context of nationwide calls for peaceful protests by the Coordinating Council of the Iranian Teachers’ Trade Associations (CCITTA) on the occasion of the Iranian Teacher’s day on 1 May 2022. This is not the first time that these human rights defenders have been targeted by the security forces. Since Eskandar Lotfi’s arrest, the human rights defender has been denied access to his lawyer and therefore, the charges against him are yet to be known. On 28 February 2022, Shaban Mohammadi was released on bail after being arbitrarily detained since 30 January 2022, after taking part in a teachers’ sit-in peaceful protest in Marivan.

Furthermore, human rights defender Esmail Abdi, a high school teacher and former Secretary General of Iran’s Teachers’ Trade Association (ITTA), has started a hunger strike on May 1st, 2022, in protest against the detention and long prison sentences for teachers rights defenders, attacks against members of Iran’s Teachers’ Trade Association (ITTA) and their families, and irregularities in the judicial procedure of his case. Esmail Abdi was serving a five year sentence on the charges of “gathering information with the intention to disrupt national security” and “propaganda against the state” when he was handed a new ten year sentence in mid May 2020. With only a few months remaining on his previous five year sentence, Esmail Abdi was handed an additional 10 year sentence based on an old file.

On April 12, 2022, Rasoul Bodaghi, a member of the board of directors of the Iran’s Teachers’ Trade Association (ITTA), Islamshahr branch, and the inspector of the association in the Coordinating Council of Iranian Teachers’ Trade Associations, was sentenced to four years in prison. The human rights defender had previously spent seven years in prison for his activities in organizing teachers’ protests and defending their rights.

On 11 December 2021, the house of human rights defender Rasoul Bodaghi was raided by security officers in Tehran, during which he was physically assaulted and arrested. The arrest of the human rights defender occurred in the context of nationwide peaceful protests by teachers, starting on 11 December 2021. The main demands of this protest were a proper classification of teachers, the harmonization of retirees’ pensions, and other educational justice requests. Since the beginning of the new school year in September, teachers have organised several protests and rallies across Iran.

Iran is one of the world’s ten worst countries for press freedom, according to RSF’s World Press Freedom Index, and it remains one of the most repressive ones for journalists. As the country’s media is largely controlled by the Islamic regime, the main sources of news and information come from media outlets that are based abroad. Journalists and independent media in Iran are constantly persecuted by means of arbitrary arrests and very heavy sentences handed down after grossly unfair trials before revolutionary courts. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei often accuses the independent media of being manipulated by foreign forces. As the head of the country’s main political, military and judicial institutions, he can order the arrests of journalists and sentence them to long prison terms, and even the death penalty.