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Teachers Across Iran Launch Nationwide Sit-In

March 5, 2019
Javad Motevali
5 min read
“I protest injustice”: Iranian teachers across the country staged a three-day sit-in
“I protest injustice”: Iranian teachers across the country staged a three-day sit-in

On the morning of Sunday March 3, Iranian teachers embarked on a nationwide, three-day sit-in, which had been called by the Council for Coordination of Teachers’ Associations.

The council has announced six demands: Release of imprisoned teachers; elimination of legal obstacles to the activities of teachers’ unions; allocation of an appropriate budget for education; increase in pensions for retired teachers to match the salaries of working teachers; insurance for all teachers; and abandonment of the policy of charging tuition for public schools. The condition regarding tuition is based on Article 30 of Iran’s constitution: “The government is bound to make available, free of charge, educational facilities for all up to the close of the secondary stage, and to expand free facilities for higher education up to the limits of the country's own capacity.”

On the first day of their new round of protests, the teachers went to school but did not go to into classrooms — teaching their students across the country a lesson in civil disobedience. Photographs of the teachers’ sit-ins were posted on social media and news sites.

What distinguishes this round of teachers’ protests from previous actions is the number of teachers taking part and the huge geographical spread. Many more teachers took part compared to the previous two rounds of protests in 2018. After those demonstrations, a large number of teachers were arrested, threatened or reprimanded.

This time, on the first day of the sit-ins, teachers across the country showed their solidarity. So far teachers in 32 cities in several provinces have sent photographs of their protests to the Council for the Coordination of Teachers’ Associations. Teachers protested in major urban areas including Tehran, Tabriz, Shiraz, Mashhad, Hamadan, Urmia and Isfahan, as well as in areas with smaller populations like Muchesh in Kurdistan and Mohammadieh in Qazvin.


A Plea for “Forbearance”

In a statement published on March 3, the council invited not only teachers, school staff, and retired teachers to join the nationwide sit-ins, but also called on students and their parents “to support this civil protest movement” in any way that they can. The statement also appealed to the education ministry and its security guards to show “forbearance” toward teachers who are trying restore their trampled rights.

On Saturday, March 2, a  day before the sit-ins started, a group of union activists visited the home of activist Mohammad Habibi, marking the one-year anniversary of his arrest. In August it was reported that Habibi had been sentenced to seven and a half years in prison and 74 lashes for “assembly and collusion against national security” and “disrupting public order.”

Rasoul Bodaghi, a well-known member of the Teachers’ Association of Iran who himself served a seven-year prison sentence for his union activities, told the gathering: “It is unfortunate that our colleagues are in prison, but under dictatorship and tyranny a teacher must go to prison...It is sad if a teacher sits at home or in a classroom without performing his main duty to nurture free-spirited students and young people. It would be sad if our youth grow up indifferent to their own and their society’s future — indifferent to tyranny, to oppression, to autocracy and to dictatorship. For my own part, I raise the flag of protest and say that we are not happy with the situation as it exists, that this nation does not deserve oppression and tyranny.”

He expressed hope that his colleagues would join the sit-ins and the campaign to free imprisoned teachers. “I hope that the conditions for the establishment of democracy in Iran will be achieved with a minimum of cost,” he said.


Embezzlement Scandal

Two demands of the teachers — allocation of an appropriate budget for education and an increase in the pensions of retired teachers to match the salaries of working teachers — are directly related to teachers’ difficulties in making a living. On November 28, 2018, Mohammad Bagher Nobakht, head of the government’s Planning and Budget Organization, said that an increase in the salaries of government employees and retirees was part of the draft budget bill for the Iranian calendar year of 1398 (starting on March 20) and “therefore this year there would be no [further] increase in salaries.” [Persian link].

Teachers had expected that the issue of salaries would be settled by October of last year as phase two of the so-called “Teachers’ Classification Plan.” However, the recent Planning and Budget Organization announcement has revealed that this will not happen, and that any increases, if they are introduced, will be further delayed.

Another problem for the financial well-being of teachers emerged when Sarmayeh (“Capital”) Bank was dragged into embezzlement and corruption court cases. This bank, the sixth biggest in the country, was established in 2005 with capital from the Teachers' Reserve Fund. According to its charter, the fund is responsible “for producing and increasing its capital and wealth to financially support retired teachers and, as much as possible, educators in active duty.”

Even before the bank was established, Morteza Haji, Minister of Education in President Khatami’s cabinet from 2001 to 2005, was repeatedly summoned to the parliament for questioning over the way his brother Mehdi Haji, who was the director of the fund at the time, ran the organization. Despite this, the brothers successfully established Sarmayeh Bank using money from the Teachers' Reserve Fund. The bank was then at the center of an embezzlement scandal. In its profit and loss statement published in early 2016, the bank predicted that it would make a loss of 688 billion tomans, close to $164 million. Now the fate of the bank rests with the courts.

Besides the embezzlement charges — which many people found unsurprising — the government now owes the teachers’ fund a total of 1.5 trillion tomans, close to $360 million [Persian link]. The new round of protests are highlighting these issues, and the general situation for teachers in general.

But, given the government’s record on supporting teachers and keeping their best interests at the heart of its policies, the forecast is not bright.


Related Coverage:

“Iran’s Education System has Been Turned into a Racket”, November 22, 2018

Wave of Arrests after Teachers’ Strike, November 15, 2018

Iranian Teachers on Nationwide Strike, October 15, 2018

Teachers are Better off Under Rouhani, But..., December 12, 2016

1,000 Teachers Behind Bars in Iran, August 28, 2015

Teachers Under Attack as Key Activist Jailed, July 1, 2018

Renewed Call for Rights as Iran Marks Teachers’ Day, May 5, 2015



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