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The Farda Briefing: Why Is Iran So Worried About Protesting Teachers?


Hundreds of teachers have protested across Iran to demand fair pay, an adjustment of pensions, and the release of their detained colleagues.

Welcome back to The Farda Briefing, a new RFE/RL newsletter that tracks the key issues in Iran and explains why they matter.

I'm RFE/RL senior correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari. Here's what I’ve been following during the past week and what I’m watching out for in the days ahead.

The Big Issue

Scores of Iranian teachers rallied in more than a dozen cities on May 1 to demand fair wages, better labor conditions, and the release of their jailed colleagues. In the days leading up to the planned rallies, dozens of teachers were detained and dozens of others were reportedly summoned for questioning by the police, in a move designed to prevent the protests from taking place. It was unclear how many protesters were detained during or after the rallies.

In the central city of Isfahan, demonstrators chanted, “Iran is not a place for tyrants.” In the northwestern city of Ghazvin, teachers branded ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi a “liar” and accused him of failing to improve economic conditions in Iran.

Why It Matters: Authorities have summoned, detained, and jailed a growing number of protesters, activists, and members of the teachers’ union. For the past three years, teachers had staged multiple protests. But now the teachers say they are coming under “unprecedented” pressure from Raisi’s government, which came to power in August, to stop the rallies.

The teachers have clear demands., but they are not calling for an end to the Islamic system. Authorities want to stop them because Iran does not tolerate dissent and they are unable to meet their demands. Authorities also appear to fear that the teachers’ rallies could trigger more protests by public-sector workers and others who are struggling to cope with soaring inflation.

What's Next: Despite the risks, the protesting teachers are likely to continue staging rallies, spurred on by economic desperation. Mahmud Beheshti Langarudi, the deputy head of the teachers’ union, hinted as much when he said that the mounting pressure from authorities had been ineffective. Still, authorities are likely to respond with more detentions and jail sentences. It is unclear if the government is willing to use force to quell the protests, a move that could backfire.

Stories You Might Have Missed

  • Iranian security forces reportedly used force to disperse dozens of protesters in the northern town of Saravan on April 28. The demonstrators said that their town had become a giant landfill site and demanded that authorities find a solution. Residents have complained that the waste is causing health and environmental problems. Authorities had promised to build an incinerator in the area but have yet to take action. Authorities said protesters hurled rocks at police, injuring five officers. More than 20 protesters were arrested.
  • Two filmmakers have fled Iran after saying they were interrogated and harassed by authorities over a documentary they made. Vahid Zarezadeh and Gelareh Kakavand told the BBC that they were interrogated by officials at the Intelligence Ministry. The pair also said that security forces searched their homes and confiscated their electronic devices. Their documentary is based on a book by prominent jailed human rights defender Narges Mohammadi about the use of solitary confinement in Iranian prisons. The filmmakers also interviewed former political prisoners who spoke about their experiences of torture and sexual harassment in prison.

What We're Watching

A verdict is expected in the trial in Stockholm of Hamid Nouri, a former Iranian official charged with war crimes and human rights abuses over the 1988 mass killings of at least 5,000 political prisoners. Swedish prosecutors have requested a life sentence for Nouri, who at the time of the executions was working as an assistant prosecutor at a prison near Tehran. He has denied any role in the killings.

In an extraordinary moment this week, a BBC reporter whose father was among those executed interviewed the son of Nouri, who dismissed the allegations against his father and suggested that he was a victim.

Why It Matters: Nouri is the first person to stand trial over the mass purge. If Nouri is found guilty, it would be a blow to the clerical establishment, which has described the trial as “illegal.”

The case is particularly sensitive because current government figures have been accused of having a role in the 1988 deaths, most notably Raisi. Nouri’s sentencing would mark a landmark victory for human rights activists and the families of the victims who have long demanded justice over the executions.

That’s all from me for now. Don’t forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you have.

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Until next time,

Golnaz Esfandiari

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is the author of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.

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