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Jailed Iranian Teacher's Wife Decries Prison Conditions

The wife of jailed Iranian teacher Hashem Khastar has told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that poor prison conditions have caused her husband's health to deteriorate.

Khastar is among a number of Iranian teachers imprisoned for being politically active. A member of the Iranian Teachers Trade Association, Khastar has been detained in Vakilabad prison in Iran's northeastern city of Mashad since September 16.

His wife, Sadigheh Malekifard, said that her husband, who suffers from a heart condition, has recently developed high blood pressure and, as a result, eye problems. She said that authorities have refused repeated requests to grant Khastar medical leave to receive treatment.

Activists say the crackdown in Iran on teachers like Khastar has escalated since Mahmud Ahmadinejad became president in 2005.

A Tehran-based teacher activist who requested anonymity told Radio Farda on May 2 -- Teachers' Day in Iran -- that more than 150 teachers have been dismissed in Iran in recent years for their activism.

With its relatively young population, education holds an important place in Iranian society and political life and consumes a considerable amount of the state budget, although schools are chronically underfunded and teachers complain of being underpaid.

"Our problem is that while the poverty line, according to Iran's Central Bank, is around $900 per month, teachers -- even those holding a master's degree or a doctorate -- are paid less than that," the teacher activist said.

Teachers have been particularly vocal in their criticism of Iran's government. The teachers are also well organized, giving groups like the Iranian Teachers Trade Association a strong voice in the country's otherwise weakened civil society.

Some educators are being harshly punished for speaking out. The Tehran-based activist told RFE/RL that some of the best teachers have been imprisoned or have even received death sentences for their activism.

Examples include teacher Farzad Kamangar, who was arrested in 2006 for alleged membership in an opposition group. Another, Abdolreza Ghanbari, was arrested for taking part in protests on the religious holiday of Ashura in December.

Both have been sentenced to death.