Protest wave continues to engulf Iran

29th July 2022

Growing unrest in Iran has been spilling over into open street protest against the regime as Western sanctions continue to bite and the economy struggles.  Jane Green assesses how the struggle against the theocratic dictatorship in Iran is unfolding.

Protest met with violence on the streets of Iran

Very often Iran makes international headlines as part of the debate regarding the Iran nuclear deal talks, the agreement reneged on by Donald Trump in 2018, a form of which US President Joe Biden is seeking to resurrect.  The situation facing ordinary workers inside the country rarely breaks into the headlines of the international media.

However, the extent 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 protestors, 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 rocked Iran.

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 labour 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 spite of the obvious injustices being perpetrated by the Iranian 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 their unlawful detention.

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.”

The current wave of protests and imprisonments is part of a pattern which has been consistently growing within Iran over the past five years.  Over that period the theocratic dictatorship ruling Iran has been experiencing arguably the most acute and multidimensional crisis in its forty-year-plus reign, a crisis that shows no sign of abating anytime soon.

It is estimated that around 45% of Iran’s population are under 35-years-old 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. 

Those demands include real jobs, decent wages and prospects, alongside human and democratic rights and political freedoms. The fact that youth unemployment is currently estimated to be running at 30% to 60% in Iran, depending on the particular age group and locale concerned, only adds fuel to an already raging fire.

The simmering widespread discontent has continuously manifested itself from summer 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 teacher’s 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’ organisations, 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 unrecognised in the Islamic Republic in spite of the fact that Iran is a signatory to a number of key international treaties.

The Committee for the Defence of Iranian People’s Rights (CODIR) has called upon the trade union and labour 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 centres.

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