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#UDHR70 – “From activism to exile: growing up as the son of a leading Iranian trade union activist”, by Sajjad Khaksari

My name is Sajjad, I was born in October 1982 in Ahvaz in Southwest Iran.

I am the eldest of the three children of Soraya Darabi and Mohammad Khaksari, who are leading union and human rights activists.

My parents are both journalists and teacher union activists. My father initiated in September 1999 the first non-governmental association of Iranian education workers after the overthrow of the Shah in 1979. In 2003, he also realised his dream as a man who graduated in sociology and journalism: he created a weekly independent magazine focusing on education and trade unions. The journal was called “Teacher's Pen" or Ghalame Moallem (قلم معلم) in Persian.

My mother is also ateacher and a journalist. She and my father worked together in the umbrella teacher association (Coordinating Council of the Iranian Teacher Associations affiliated to Education International) and as editor in chief and editor of the Teachers Pen. In 2007 my mother was active in an association called "Madarane Solh" (the Mothers of Peace), collaborating with Nobel Peace Prize Iranian lawyer Shirin Ebadi in the Centre for the Defence of Human Rights (DHRC) until its shutdown one year later by the regime of President Ahmadinejad.

Both my parents have suffered years of intimidation, court charges and detentions due to their roles at the helm of the Iranian Teachers’ Trade Association, which has never been legalised by the Iranian government. In May 2007, my mother was one of the few female teachers arrested when teachers gathered in front of the Parliament in Tehran to claim better rights and status. She was detained in the Evin prison and condemned by the Islamic Revolutionary Court. In July 2007, my father took a delegation to the Congress of Education International in Berlin. He was interrogated for days upon his return and his passport seized for years. In September of that same year, my father was reported missing when visiting union members in the province of Isfahan. For World Teachers Day, on 5 October, my parents’ apartment and that of other union leaders were searched by agents of the Ministry of Intelligence. Computers and papers, related among others to the affiliation to Education International and to Teacher’s Pen were confiscated.

Because of their union engagement, my family received public death threats. Once, a teacher close to the Iranian regime said that he will “burn my father’s home and family, stitch his mouth and kill him”. This was not the first time my parents were subject to such threats. The authorities never acted to protect their safety.

Over the years, Education International (EI) has consistently denounced the fact that teachers are deprived of freedom of association guaranteed under Convention 87 of the International Labour Organisation. The teacher associations are still banned, and teacher unionists are still detained. The violations of rights have been duly documented in a complaint to the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association (case 2566). EI has also launched a new case to request the release of at least fifteen teacher unionists where names are known, dozens of others being presumably detained as well. This new wave of arrests follows the monthly protests of teachers throughout the country.

I was born and grew up in Ahvaz, an ancient city in the province of Khuzestan. This province produces 90% of the crude oil of Iran. We lived in a zone called the Polish camp where Poles displaced after World War II used to live. I was born in 1982 during the Iran-Iraq war while the city was evacuated under the bombing of Saddam Hussein. My parents moved to Tehran in 1988 when the war was over. My life in a giant city like Tehran was not easy, but thanks to the continuing support of my parents (especially my mother Soraya), I successfully graduated in Mathematics, Physics, and Applied Science from the Danish High School in 2000. One year later, on 20 July 2001, while I was attending a small gathering in the North of Tehran, I was shot in the leg by a Pasdaran (Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution). The Pasdaran Army took me to the military hospital for a surgical operation which would be followed by additional operations and months of physiotherapy treatment. However, the news of my shooting was censored in the media because the military was responsible for the attack. The assault was never officially recorded.

In 2002, a year after the Pasdaran shot me, I was arrested by the security forces for launching a student demand for additional study rooms in the University of Arak where I was studying Industrial Engineering. When I later transferred to the University of Tehran, I suffered further intimidation from the Security Centre of Tehran’s University because of my activism and “illegal” publications challenging the Iranian regime propaganda. As from 2003 and the foundation of the teacher union magazine by my parents, I contributed articles and photographs. In 2006, I was arrested for releasing an article in the Teacher’s Pen and distributing the magazine in several provinces of Iran. I was arrested again in 2006 for releasing an article in the Teacher's Pen and participating in the teachers' demonstration in front of the Iranian Parliament.

In January 2007, I graduated with a Bachelor of Science, however my thesis on the Education Management Information System in Iran was rejected and censored because of its critique of the education policy of the Iranian regime. That was followed by being deprived of my right to study in Iran.

On 26 April 2009, I was arrested again during a short teachers' gathering in Baharestan Square convened by teachers from Lorestan and Kermanshah demanding permanent contracts. After some days of interrogation and solitary confinement, I was condemned to one-year imprisonment charged for “Propaganda Against the Sacred Regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran”, “Disturbing Public Opinion”, and “Disordering the Public Order”. The security police transferred me into the political ward of the Evin Prison. In July 2009, and while I was in detention, another judge from the Islamic revolutionary court added 6 months detention for my participation in the teacher rallies of 2006. I was, however, released on 23 December 2009 and invited by the Government of Italy, UNESCO and UN Habitat as a youth delegate of Iran to the first Youth Meeting for a Sustainable Future held in Bari, Italy. The Forum brought together over 500 youth delegates from 90 countries. I asked for asylum. I moved to Piemont and applied at the Polytechnic University of Turin where I graduated with a Master’s of Science in Engineering and Management.

My parents are still committed teacher unionists, while aged 65 and 63, respectively, and suffering many health problems as consequences of their ill treatment during their times in detention.

The trade union situation in Iran remains very complicated. In 2015, my father and other Iranian teacher union leaders were denied participation in the 7th World Congress of Education International. Participation in these international gatherings is very important for Iranian teachers as it provides an opportunity to talk about the conditions of teachers and challenges in the education system. Not only are union freedoms and collective bargaining denied (official organisations exist but they are merely implementing Iranian regime decisions), academic freedom is restricted, schools are unsafe, especially in the rural regions, minorities are discriminated against, there is gender segregation and no respect for diversity.

In conclusion, I would like to highlight that my parents' commitment to struggle and fight for human rights in Iran continues and international solidarity remains vital.

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10 December 2018 marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The Declaration remains a relevant inspiration for educators and trade unionists worldwide, as it guarantees the right to form unions, freedom of expression and the right of all to quality education. Human rights requires an informed and continued demand by people for their protection. For this special occasion, Education International is releasing a series of blogs bringing voices and thoughts of unionists reflecting on struggles and accomplishments in this domain. The blogs reflect the continued commitment of education unionists, in every part of the world, in every community, to promote, defend and advance human rights and freedoms for the benefit of all.


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Sajjad Khaksari

Sajjad Khaksari is the son of Soraya Darabi and Mohammad Khaksari, leaders of the teacher union movement in Iran. 

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