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Human Rights Watch urges Iran to release teachers arrested in crackdown

Teachers have taken to the streets to demand higher salaries amid an economic crunch and soaring inflation
The Iranian flag flies outside the country's embassy in Berlin, on 3 January 2020 (AFP)

Human Rights Watch has called on Iran to release teachers being held across the country, after at least 38 were detained for organising protests before and since 1 May.

The New York-based organisation said on Thursday that at least 17 teachers are still in custody, according to reports by the reformist Emtedad News Agency.

"At least 17 of them are still detained, including Mohammad Habibi, the Iranian Teachers Trade Association's (ITTA) spokesperson," HRW said in a statement

It said the arrests came after the Coordinating Council of the Iranian Cultural Teachers Associations called for a nationwide protest on 1 May - on the eve of National Teachers' Day.

"Iranian authorities have yet again decided to lock up people for seeking to organise to assert their collective rights instead of working with independent associations to ensure respect for Iranians' economic and social rights," said senior HRW researcher, Tara Sepehri Far.

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"Attempting to silence peaceful mobilisation and protests won't make Iran’s dismal economic reality go away."

Iranian teachers have taken to the streets repeatedly in recent months to protest conditions and the arrest of colleagues.

The teachers have for months demanded that the government speed up the implementation of reforms that would see their salaries better reflect their experience and performance.

In April, an Iranian court sentenced teachers' union activist Rasoul Bodaghi to five years in jail for "illegal assembly" and "propaganda".

The Norway-based Iran Human Rights NGO said at the time that Bodaghi had been convicted in an "intensification of the crackdown on civil society in Iran".

Hit by biting economic sanctions imposed in 2018 by the United States, Iran has seen inflation soar to more than 40 percent, taking a heavy toll on the standard of living of public sector staff and others on fixed incomes.

According to HRW, Iranian authorities have clamped down on "activist teachers" since the beginning of the Iranian new year in March. More than a dozen have been summoned for questioning and several arrested, while others were charged, convicted or jailed. Most were accused of undermining "national security".