Esmail Abdi has committed no crime, so why is he in prison?
Esmail Abdi is an inspiration to teachers and trade unionists across the world, through his courage to stand up for trade union and human rights in the face of oppressive and harsh treatment.
Many people in the UK may not have heard of Esmail Abdi. Esmaila is a teacher. He teaches mathematics. He is also a member of a trade union. Esmail believes in the importance of quality education for all children and young people and he has worked hard to achieve better working conditions for teachers.
Esmail is a leader of the Tehran branch of the Iran Teachers’ Trade Association. He is currently on hunger strike in the notorious Evin Prison whilst serving a six-year sentence.
But Esmail has committed no crime. His imprisonment on so-called national security offences is widely recognised by international observers including Amnesty International as an attempt to silence him and to prevent him from highlighting concerns about poor wages, the inadequate education budget, and the unjustified imprisonment of teachers and other trade unionists.
Esmail has been denied communications with members of his family and his lawyer and the brutal conditions of the prison are taking a toll on his health, even before his decision to go on hunger strike. However, despute his imprisonment, the Iranian authorities have not been able to silence him.
This year, teachers in the UK made Esmail the recipient of the 2018 NASUWT International Solidarity Award, recognising the tremendous courage and fortitude he has shown.
In making the award the NASUWT and our members are sending a clear message to the Iranian authorities about the need to respect teachers’ rights and to meet their obligations to protecting the rights of all children to quality education.
We stand with Esmail and his colleagues in Iran in their courageous struggle for quality education for all.
Working with Amnesty International UK, Education International and other partners, we will be intensifying our lobbying to persuade the Iranian authorities to release Esmail from prison and to respect the rights of teachers and other workers.
Esmail Abdi once asked this:
“Is it a crime to be a member of a trade association and participate in peaceful demonstrations… Is it a crime to gather signatures petitioning the government to uphold the law?’
Well, we don’t think this is a crime. And, neither is it a crime for others to add their voices to Esmail’s, to sign a petition or write a letter calling on the Iranian authorities to respect human rights.
It only takes a few minutes to write a letter but for someone enduring prison and torture just for protesting peacefully it can provide the strength for them to carry on.
- Patrick Roach is deputy general secretary of the NASUWT