The teachers facing abuse and torture

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It is our duty as educators, says SecEd editor Pete Henshaw, to stand and support our colleagues across the world who face torture, abuse and even death because they are a teacher.

Last Friday (October 5) was World Teachers’ Day and perhaps you took a moment to reflect on why it is you do what you do. I hope so.

Perhaps the day caused some of us to reflect on the storm of government policy and Ofsted rhetoric that seems to be battering education at the moment.

Perhaps we thought about the unrest in the profession – the industrial action and the severe financial pressures under which we are working.

For thousands of teachers across the world, World Teachers’ Day might have passed in a similar fashion, if it weren’t for the fact that they are imprisoned for holding such views.

A year ago, one of these teachers, Omar Combita, was jailed in Colombia for protesting against government reforms. He is a member of FECODE, the Colombian teachers’ trade union, and the director of the
Santana Ramos Education Centre.

Detained in La Modelo Prison in Bogota accused of “rebellion”, he is one of nine trade unionists to be held – all of them active in protests against government reforms to education. The evidence on which he is held – an intercepted phone call with an apparent guerrilla – has been labelled “highly dubious” by campaigners. 

Mahdi ‘Issa Abu Dheeb was jailed in May last year in Bahrain because he took part in a protest. President of the Bahraini Teachers’ Association, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison by a military court for using his position “to call for a strike by teachers, halting the educational process and inciting hatred of the regime”. His vice-president Jalila Al-Salman was sentenced to three years.

Campaigners say there is no evidence proving that they either used or advocated violence. Mahdi ‘Issa Abu Dheeb says that he has been tortured and denied access to medical care. He has held several hunger strikes. 

Johan Teterissa, a primary school teacher, is serving a 15-year sentence for leading a peaceful protest in Indonesia. He was arrested with 21 others in 2007 during a government-organised event in Maluku province, attended by the President of Indonesia.

The protestors performed a traditional war dance and unfurled the Benang Raja flag, perceived by authorities to be a symbol of the Republic of South Maluku independence movement. He has been tortured in jail and has not received adequate medical treatment; he is in constant pain.

These are just four cases of teachers facing persecution for their beliefs. Many, many more will have passed this year’s World Teachers’ Day behind bars, facing the daily threat of torture. They are there because they are seen as a threat by their governments – a threat to their rule, their reforms, their power.

For me, World Teachers’ Day provides an opportunity to remind those countries across the world that persecute and jail teachers that their actions are not going unnoticed.

Education is key to a future in which every citizen is equal and treated accordingly. In which the human rights of every person are respected and upheld.

Teachers are, because of their beliefs and ideals in this regard, invariably on the frontline when it comes to standing up for what is right, standing up against governments.

We may have our own battles in the UK, but they pale when compared to those of some teachers in this world. We may have to protest against our government’s education reforms and austerity measures, but we, at least, can protest without fear of persecution or jail.

And so I believe firmly that it is our duty as educators to stand and support our colleagues across the world in the hope that international pressure might lead to their freedom. At the very least, international attention will mean they are that little bit safer from torture and abuse.

Further information 
For details of these cases and more, and to find out how you can make your voice count to help, visit www.ei-ie.org/en/uaas/issues_actions/ and also www.amnesty.org.uk


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