UNISON calls for the release of Iranian Trade Union Leader Esmail Abdi

Public sector trade union activists attending the annual International Seminar in Newcastle upon Tyne, 23 – 25 March 2018, called for the release from prison of Esmail Abdi, Iranian teacher trade union leader. Participants in the seminar included International Officers from various branches and regional councils of UNISON across the country, as well as the Chair and a number of members of UNISON’s National Executive Council.

Esmail Abdi, leader of the Iranian Teachers Trade Association, is serving a six-year prison sentence for engaging in trade union activities and peacefully advocating for teachers’ rights in Iran. He has campaigned for the basic rights of his members, encompassing teachers from across Iran.

Esmail was arrested on 27 June 2015 after he attended the Prosecutor’s Office at Evin Prison to inquire about the travel ban that had been placed on him. He had been prevented from travelling to Armenia where he had hoped to apply for a visa to attend the 7th Education International World Congress in Ottawa, Canada in July 2015 (Education International is the global teachers’ trade union to which several British education unions belong.)

Esmail was then transferred to Section 2A of Evin Prison, which is run by the intelligence unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, and subjected to at least 17 days of interrogation, without access to his family or lawyer. Esmail Abdi was denied the right of access to his lawyer based on a provision in Iran’s new Code of Criminal Procedures which restricts access to legal counsel during the investigative phase for people facing charges relating to national security, to a list of only those lawyers that are pre-approved by the Head of the Judiciary.

Esmail Abdi has said that the interrogators accused him of “organising and participating in illegal gatherings” which does not constitute an offence under Iranian law. The “gatherings” referred to were a number of peaceful demonstrations held in the months just beforehand by members of the ITTA – a legally constituted entity in Iran – in protest at poor wages, the low budget allocated to education and the imprisonment of teacher trade unionists.

International trade union confederations including ITUC, IndustriALL, Educational International and many trade unions in various countries of the world have repeatedly called on the Islamic Republic of Iran to unconditionally  release Esmail Abdi from detention and to ratify ILO Convention 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise, and Convention 98 on the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining. This is a clear call on President Hassan Rouhani’s administration to guarantee the rights of workers to join unions and to enjoy the protection of collective bargaining.

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