An imprisoned teachers’ rights activist has been refusing food and water, pledging to continue his hunger strike until his 14-year combined prison sentence is reviewed in a public trial.
Mahmoud Beheshti-Langroudi, the former spokesman for the Iranian Teachers’ Trade Association (ITTA), was taken to Evin Prison in Tehran on September 12, 2017, to serve the sentences that were issued for his peaceful defense of labor rights.
“I have warned the Tehran prosecutor’s office that I will go on a dry hunger strike the day I am returned to prison,” wrote Beheshti-Langroudi in a post on the Telegram messaging network on August 28, 2017.
“I am a teacher and a trade union activist and board member of the Teachers’ Trade Association, a lawful organization,” he added.
Beheshti-Langroudi believes the charges that he was convicted of during a closed-door brief trial are politically motivated.
“My demand is completely lawful,” he said in an interview published on the Hoghough Moaelm va Karegar [Teachers’ and Workers’ Rights] website on the day of his return to prison. “Based on Article 168 of the Constitution, cases like mine should be tried in public in an open court in the presence of a jury.”
Based on Article 168, “Political and press offenses will be tried openly and in the presence of a jury, in courts of justice.”
“What we are witnessing in the revolutionary courts, such as the sentences against me, which were issued in a closed session in a matter of minutes, are in no way compatible with Article 168,” he added in the interview.
Beheshti-Langroudi also wrote on Telegram that his convictions are primarily due to charges brought against him by the Intelligence Ministry when it operated under conservative president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005-13) before centrist President Hassan Rouhani came to power in 2013.
“I was expecting the Intelligence Ministry to stop persecuting political and civil rights activists [under Rouhani], but my summons and other recent harsh actions show that nothing has changed,” he said.
The Revolutionary Court in Tehran has sentenced the 57-year-old to prison three separate times during the past 10 years.
Beheshti-Langroudi was sentenced to four years in prison in 2007 for attending a demonstration alongside thousands of workers demanding better employment conditions; five years in prison in 2010 for protesting the abuse of teachers’ rights in Iran; and another five years in prison in 2015 for participating in a peaceful teacher’s rights rally.
He was previously arrested on September 6, 2015, to begin serving his sentences, but was released in May 2016 after going on a 22-day hunger strike.
Labor activism in Iran is seen as a national security offense; independent labor unions are not allowed to function, strikers are often fired and risk arrest, and labor leaders are consistently prosecuted under catchall national security charges and sentenced to long prison terms.
Independent unions are not allowed to operate in Iran, strikers often lose their jobs and risk arrest, and labor leaders who attempt to organize workers and bargain collectively are prosecuted under national security charges and sentenced to long prison sentences.