Iranian cleric voices support for protesters as teachers call for strike

Teachers' union to protest for two days over deaths of schoolchildren amid clampdown by security forces

Anti-government demonstrations sparked by the death of a young woman in police custody have rocked Iran since last month. AP
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An Iranian cleric on Friday voiced support for the public's right to protest against the government, as teachers were expected to call a two-day strike from next week.

Anti-government demonstrations sparked by the death of a young woman in police custody have rocked the country since last month.

Mahsa Amini, who was aged 22, died three days after she was detained by the morality police in Tehran, on charges of breaching the country's strict dress code.

"The people have the right to criticise the leader of Muslim society, whether the criticism is justified or not," Ayatollah Javad Alavi-Boroujerdi was quoted by Shafaqna news agency as saying.

"The people have something to say and they don't agree with what you are doing," he told authorities.

The cleric, 68, is the grandson of late grand ayatollah Hossein Boroujerdi, the leading Shiite cleric in the 20th century.

He said that the media should have its freedom and "different thoughts should be expressed on state television".

Following Amini's death, violence spread to the streets, resulting in dozens of deaths and the arrest of hundreds.

During the unrest since last month, "some people have been arrested and are in jail... treat them with mercy," the Ayatollah said.

His sentiments were similar to remarks made by Grand Ayatollah Hossein Nouri Hamedani, a prominent conservative cleric and strong supporter of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who called on the authorities to "listen to the demands of the people".

It came as of the country's teachers' unions called a two-day strike from Sunday over the deaths of schoolchildren amid a clampdown by security forces.

Young women, university students and schoolgirls have led the charge, removing their headscarves, chanting anti-government slogans and confronting the security forces on the streets.

The Co-ordinating Council of Teachers' Syndicates on Thursday called a strike in response to the government clampdown, which Amnesty International has said caused the deaths of at least 23 children.

"The Co-ordinating Council declares sit-in strikes for Sunday and Monday. We teachers will be present at schools but will refrain from being present in classes," it said on its Telegram channel.

"We know very well that the military and security forces and plainclothes [officers] have violated schools and educational centres," it said.

"During this systematic oppression, they have mercilessly taken the lives of a number of pupils and children; from Nika [Shahkarami] and Sarina [Esmailzadeh], to Abolfazl [Adinezadeh] and Asra Panahi."

The four, all in their teens, were killed by Iran's security forces during their operation against the nationwide protests that have flared since September 16, when Amini died in custody, according to human rights groups.

Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights said on Thursday that at least 27 children have been killed by the security forces and that children and teachers are among the thousands arrested in the crackdown.

In its statement, the teachers' union said "a large number of teachers have been arrested" without being charged.

"The rulers must know that Iran's teachers do not tolerate these atrocities and tyranny and proclaims that we are for the people, and these bullets and pellets you shoot at the people target our lives and souls," it said.

"This is why the Co-ordinating Council of Teachers Syndicates supports the rightful protests of the people across Iran, and condemns the killings and oppression of past weeks."

It vowed to "continue our protest until the people's right to protest is recognised, all pupils are unconditionally freed and return to schools, the system stops killing the people and children, and stops answering the people's rightful demands with bullets".

Updated: October 22, 2022, 7:35 AM
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