June 2, 2022—In an open letter to the delegates at the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) 110th Session of the International Labour Conference, currently being held in Geneva, Switzerland, the Coordinating Council of Iranian Teachers’ Trade Associations, Iran’s national teachers’ organization, has requested that the Islamic Republic’s representatives be removed from the governing board of the ILO.
The open letter, which has garnered close to 2,000 signatures across Iran and around the world, condemns the “brutal repression of teachers and other trade union activists in Iran” and the “attacks and arrests of well-known union activists, teachers [and] workers.”
“The Islamic Republic has been flagrantly violating the most basic principles of the ILO—including freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining—for decades with impunity,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
“The Iranian authorities want the clout of membership in these international bodies without respecting their most fundamental principles,” Ghaemi continued. “It is high time these organizations hold their members accountable.”
Iran does not recognize independent unions, imprisons their leaders under sham national security charges, and routinely arrests individuals peacefully protesting labor conditions—all practices that violate the ILO’s Fundamental Principles, to which Iran is a signatory.
CHRI strongly supports all of the council’s calls in the letter, including its requests to:
Call on the Iranian government to immediately and unconditionally release all imprisoned teachers, trade union activists, and protesters, and to drop all charges against detainees.
Dispatch an international delegation to Iran under the coordination of the Working Group of the ILO and global trade union federations to examine labor force conditions in Iran, meet with independent trade unions, and visit imprisoned trade union activists and their families.
Request the dismissal of the representatives of the Iranian government from the governing board of the ILO.
Ask the delegates at the conference to convey to the delegates from Iran their denunciation of the Iranian government’s repression of independent trade unions and their members, and its violations of the rights to freedom of association and to peaceful demonstration.
The letter, reprinted below, notes that “many members of the teachers’ trade associations, Tehran bus workers’ syndicate, and other independent trade union organizations… [have been] incarcerated for engaging in legitimate workers’ and trade union activities,” and it provides a list of activists who should be immediately and unconditionally released, including Esmail Abdi, who is serving another 10 years after completing a six-year sentence, and Hashem Khastar, who has been in prison for many years and denied medical leave despite his illness and old age.
The letter also calls attention to the fact that independent trade unions of Iran do not have any representatives at the International Labour Conference, and the “delegates” who are ostensibly representatives of “trade unions” in Iran are sponsored by the government.
The Iranian government’s violations of freedom of association and assembly do not only violate its obligations under the ILO. Articles 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Iran is a signatory, also recognize freedom of association and assembly. Article 9 of Iranian civil law, meanwhile, stipulates that the international conventions which Iran has joined have the same authority as domestic law.
These abuses also violate domestic Iranian law. Article 26 of Iran’s constitution ostensibly protects freedom of association, and gatherings of teachers and other professional and worker gatherings are ostensibly protected under Article 27, which recognizes the right to peaceful assembly.
Yet the government’s requirement to obtain a permit or license to associate gives the Iranian authorities an effective veto over any association or gathering, violating not only the cornerstones of the ILO principles but also Iranians’ constitutional rights.
The full text of the Coordinating Council of Iranian Teachers’ Trade Associations’ open letter follows:
We, the undersigned, are calling on the Delegate at the 110th Session of the International Labour Conference, and in particular the workers’ delegates, about the recent brutal repression of teachers and other trade union activists in Iran.
Over the years, especially in recent months, the Iranian government’s economic policies have created widespread poverty and misery for the general public, especially workers. This situation has created a wide class divide, shrinking the livelihood of the general public, and eventually led to public protests. It is unfortunate that instead of responding appropriately and solving the problems, the government has reacted brutally to these legal protests, and their response has been nothing but widespread repression. One of the various aspects of the crackdown is the attack on and arrest of well-known union activists, teachers, workers and many other protesting people. Recently, in a false scenario, a “pseudo-report” was published on state radio and television (Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting) against well-known teachers and workers’ activists who are the legal and respected representatives of their sectors. In this “pseudo-report”, a desperate and baseless attempt was made to accuse Iranian trade union activists of collaborating with foreign “spies”. The release of this government-made plot against trade union activists immediately met with a wave of protest and disgust throughout Iran.
We are asking delegates at the 110th Session of the International Labour Conference to condemn the Iranian government’s escalating violation of all teachers’ rights, workers’ rights and in particular the violation of the right to association and the violation of the right to peaceful demonstration. This is an urgent matter because since May Day, a number of trade union activists have been arrested and are being interrogated and charged with serious but completely false and baseless national security charges only to suppress the independent trade union movement and the rightful protests of the toiling and oppressed people in Iran. These violations of fundamental workers’ rights are taking place while the government of Iran is part of the Governing Body of the International Labour Office.
Many members of the teachers’ trade associations, Tehran bus workers’ syndicate, and members of other independent trade union organizations, as well as the protesting people, have been persecuted, arrested and incarcerated for engaging in legitimate workers’ and trade union activities. We are calling on the delegates to condemn the Iranian government’s repression of the independent trade unions and their members.
We are asking the delegates at the International Labour Conference to convey to the government delegates from Iran their denunciation of these repressive measures and call on the Iranian government to take all necessary measures for the immediate and unconditional release of all teachers and other trade union activists, and stop repressions of workers, trade unionists, and protesting people, and respect freedom of association and trade union rights under ILO Convention 87 and 98 and The ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. It is necessary to emphasize that, unfortunately, the independent trade unions of Iran do not have any representatives at the International Labour Conference, and the “delegates” who are the representatives of the “trade unions” participating from Iran are also sponsored by the government.
The government of Iran must immediately and unconditionally release all jailed teachers and trade union activists who have been arrested since May Day 2022, including Rasoul Bodaghi, Eskandar Lofi, Reza Shahabi, Jafar Ebrahimi, Hassan Saeidi, Anisha Asadollahi, Reyhaneh Ansarinejad, Mohammad Habibi, Keyvan Mohtadi, Shaban Mohammadi, Masoud Nikkhah, Reza Amanifar, Hadi Sadeghzadeh, Mohammad Alishvandi, Asghar_Amirzadegan, Mehrdad Yaghmaei, Afshin Razmjoo, Gholamreza Gholamikandazi, Hamid Abbasi, Abdolrazaq Amiri, Mohammad Ali Zahmatkesh, Mohsen Bahrami, Morteza Mohammadi and many others like Hashem Khastar, who has been in prison for many years. Despite his illness and old age, he is not even given medical leave.
We also strongly demand an end to the ongoing detention and harassment of other trade union and labour activists serving sentences, including the imprisoned teacher Esmail Abdi, who is currently serving another 10 years in prison after completing a six-year sentence, who was charged in 2010, and Hashem Khastar, who has been in prison for many years, and despite his illness and old age he is not even given medical leave. Moreover, the sentences and charges against the following women teachers, who have already been incarcerated for protesting against the government’s educational policies, must be annulled and they must be released immediately: Zeinab Hamrang, Alieh Aghdamdoost, Haleh Safarzadeh, Nahid Fath’alian, Nosrat Beheshti, Masoumeh Askari and Mojgan Bagheri.
We, the signatories of this letter, also specifically request the labor delegations participating at the International Labour Conference to include the following urgent items on the agenda of the meeting, and we insist to do their best to approve and implement them:
Unconditional and immediate drop of all charges against imprisoned trade unionists, and release of all detainees.
To oblige the Iranian government to respect and uphold the rights of all workers including teachers to organize and to freedom of association and freedom of speech including the right to peaceful assembly, without fear of state intervention.
Considering dispatching an international delegation to Iran under the coordination of the Working Group of the International Labour Organization and the global trade union federations to examine the labor force conditions in Iran, meet with independent trade unions and visit imprisoned trade union activists and their families
Requesting the dismissal of the representatives of the Iranian government from the governing board of the International Labor Organization and not supporting their re-election in this board due to the continuous violation of international labour conventions and lack of accountability for the ongoing repression of trade unions and labour activists in Iran.