Safa Maleki, a chemistry teacher at Imam Ali High School in Bandar-e-Anzali, in Iran's Gilan Province, was arrested last month as she was on her way to school.
Her arrest was allegedly "no different than kidnapping," albeit by officers in plain clothes, according to the Coordinating Council of Iranian Teachers' Trade Associations (CCITTA), a union that works for the welfare of educators in the country.
After six days in custody, in early November, Maleki was released on bail. However, the charges against her are still unclear.
With the regime resorting to arbitrary arrests of teachers as Iran's anti-hijab protests rage on, many Iranian teachers like Maleki now find themselves caught between the urge to support their students and the threat to their own lives.
Spotlight on Teachers
Schoolgirls have been at the forefront of Iran's nationwide protests.
But as the protests spilled over into schools and colleges, teachers came under scrutiny for permitting them.
Now, with their arbitrary arrests – coupled with threats of salary cuts and job losses – teachers are finding it harder to speak up.
"There's already a hesitance from members of the teaching community to participate in the ongoing protests. Now, the arrest and imprisonment of teachers like Maleki and others in various cities are only discouraging us," Farah, a 38-year-old high school teacher from Tehran, tells The Quint.
Hamid Jafari, a teacher at Asoudegi Vocational School at Kashan in Iran's Isfahan province, was reportedly arrested in October, too. He has been on a hunger strike since and has been in solitary confinement as of 5 November.
Forough Khosravi, the principal of Kowsar High School for Girls in Aghajari city, meanwhile, was "forced to resign," according to the CCITTA.
'Why Would I Do That to My Daughters?'
The death of 16-year-old Asra Panahi during the Mahsa Amini protests in the city of Ardabil on 12 October has further intensified the restrictions on teachers, reveals Farah.
Panahi was reportedly thrashed by the Iranian security forces at her school. She had allegedly refused to sing a pro-regime song, 'Hello Commander'. Iranian officials denied that their forces were responsible for her death.
"As much as I want to be a part of the protests, I made sure I am not," says Farah, adding that girls have now been barred from protesting at schools by administrators.
"If parents speak out, they will lose their surviving children, too. Why would I do that to my daughters?"Farah, a high school teacher from Tehran
Since the beginning of the protests in Iran on 17 September – following the death of 22-year-old Amini on 16 September – more than 300 lives have been lost. Out of these, at least 48 are children.
Even as teachers who The Quint spoke with sounded cautious, dozens of those arrested in Iran are educators and activists, according to the CCITTA. Human rights groups say that the Islamic Republic of Iran has so far arrested more than 14,000 journalists, students, and civilians. Their trials are already underway, with several protesters being charged with "waging war against god" and "corruption on earth," both of which carry a death penalty.
Two other deaths that shocked the teaching community were those of Nika Shakarami and Sarina Esmailzadeh, both of whom were 16-year-old schoolgirls.
Nika was last seen standing atop a trash bin in Tehran on 20 September, protesting the death of Amini. Hours after the protest, Nika went missing and her family found her body 10 days later in a mortuary. Sarina, a popular YouTuber, was allegedly beaten to death by the regime's forces in Karaj on 23 September.
Families of the schoolgirls who died have been reportedly forced to confess on pro-regime media channels that the teenagers died by suicide. The "false confessions" were later debunked by relatives and through independent investigations.
Crackdown on Teachers Isn't New
The regime has been detaining and arresting teachers for their activism even before Mahsa Amini's death. Human Rights Watch reported that as of 1 May 2022, at least 38 teachers across the country were arrested over the last two weeks in April, during which they protested against "delayed wages, declining standard of living, and decreased insurance support."
Rasool, a native of Karaj who teaches Qur'anic studies to Intermediate students, tells The Quint he doubted that the protests will see massive participation from teachers for a different reason.
"The regime has some strong followers among the teaching community. Some are afraid that the teachers who support the system and have connections with intelligence organisations will rat them out."
He adds, however, that if all the teachers joined the protests, the regime would definitely suffer. "Unfortunately, the chances of that happening are not as high as I hoped. The teachers are also afraid of losing their jobs. They barely earn minimum wage to eat, not to die. They are more reserved about protesting publicly."
"Another fact that must be taken into account is that the Ministry of Education strongly monitors the teachers. And ever since the new administration rose to power, they have created a very suffocating atmosphere for teachers."
Speaking about Maleki’s alleged arrest, Rasool says, "We don’t even know what the charges against her are. What has she done? This is how the regime suppresses free voices. Teachers, as the tutors of minds in Iran, play a major role in enlightening the students about the history of their great country."
'The New Generation Has More Courage Than Us'
Morvarid has been teaching primary and middle-school students for over 17 years now. Not only has she joined the protests, but she has also supported her 19-year-old daughter, Niloufar, who has been protesting at the Kesharvarz Boulevard in Tehran since 23 September.
Speaking about the ongoing women-led revolution in Iran, she says,
"The protests by girl students create a better stage for this movement to turn into a revolution. This generation has way more courage than we ever did, and after a point, it’s impossible to control them – even for a hardline regime like ours. In order to achieve victory, these protests must continue."
She appealed to teachers, doctors, and businesspersons to support these students if they wanted a "free Iran."
"I never imagined this would happen in my lifetime. To fulfill the goals my generation had during the unsuccessful protests of the past decades, it’s imperative that we join them now… I am doing it for my daughter and hope they do it for their daughters, too," says Morvarid.
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