Aug. 4, 2020
Civil society activist
10 and and a half years’ imprisonment (seven and a half years’ definite imprisonment), 74 lashes of the whip/Awaiting Court of Appeals’ verdict
Teacher, teachers’ union activist, member of Board of Directors of the Iranian Teachers’ Union
Conspiring against national security
Disturbing public order
Propaganda against the regime
During his time working as a union activist, Mohammad Habibi Khozani has organized protests against the commercialization and commodification of education in Iran, arguing that it is contrary to the principle of free education and the principles of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Mohammad Habibi Khozani graduated from university in 2003 and started working as a teacher in Deylam, Bushehr province. After teaching there for two years, he was transferred to Najafabad, Isfahan province, where he worked for another two years.
In 2005, Habibi Khozani began his Master’s degree in political science at the University of Tehran. As part of the degree, he presented his dissertation on “The Discourse of the Islamic Constitution.” After he completed his Master’s degree, he worked as a teacher in Gachsaran, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad province, for four years, until he was transferred to work in Shahriar, Tehran province, in 2011.
Union Concerns and Work with the Teachers’ Union
After moving to Tehran in 2013, Mohammad Habibi Khozani started his union activities in earnest. He started working with the Teachers' Union of Iran in 2014, and in 2016, he became a member of the board of directors of the Tehran Teachers’ Union after passing a vote of the board members.
Mohammad Habibi Khozani’s main concern in the Tehran Teachers’ Union was the “achievement of an honorable standard of living with a salary above the poverty line” for teachers. Habibi Khozazni strove, in his words, for “quality, fair and free education for all children” and is a staunch opponent of the privatization of Iranian education.
Habibi Khozani is also active in the media and has published articles as part of his trade union activities. He has used his media work to articulate union demands for many years. Habibi Khozani also believes that the Act For Fundamental Change In Education. an Iranian education reform act, has serious flaws; and he has been critical of the meager budget allocated to education in Iran, calling the current health insurance for teachers inefficient and inadequate.
Arrests and Interrogations by Security Forces
Mohammad Habibi Khozani was first arrested by security forces at his place of work at midday on March 3, 2018. According to the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), the security officers first took him to his home which they subsequently searched. They then transferred Habibi Khozani to an unknown location where they beat him.
Following the arrest, eight teachers' unions issued statements condemning Habibi Khozani’s detention and the violence carried out by security forces against him. At the same time, more than 2,000 union and civil society activists signed an online petition demanding Habibi Khozani’s release.
A few days after his arrest, after interrogations had been completed, Habibi Khozani was transferred to Evin Prison. Although his case officer at the Evin Prosecutor’s Office stated that he would allow him to be released on bail, Habibi Khozani was forced to remain in custody. According to the Committee for the Defense of Mohammad Habibi, on March 19, 2018, he was transferred from the Solitary Confinement Section of Evin Prison to Cellblock 4 Section 4.
On April 15, 2018, after 44 days of temporary detention, Mohammad Habibi Khozani was released from prison on bail of 250 million tomans until the end of the court proceedings against him.
Re-arrest at the Teachers’ Protest Rally
On May 10, 2018, following a call by the Coordinating Council of the Iranian Teachers’ Unions, active and retired teachers from across Iran staged protest rallies in numerous cities. In Tehran, teachers organized a protest gathering in front of the Planning and Budget Organization Offices. However, security forces arrested 15 of the protesters, including Mohammad Habibi Khozani. Following his arrest, he was transferred to the Tharallah Division Headquarters in Tehran, a special division of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), where he was again beaten by agents.
The majority of those arrested at the protest rally were released from detention on a bail of 50 million tomans. Those released on bail includd Mohammad Taghi Fallahi, the secretary general of the Tehran Teachers' Union, Rasoul Badaghi, inspector of the Tehran Teachers’ Union, Rahman Abedini, a member of the board of directors of the Alborz Teachers' Union, Aliyeh Aghdam Doost, a member of Retirees’ Union, Esmail Garami, the husband of a retired teacher, Hossein Gholami, an activist from the Retirees’ Union and Javad Zanozi, a teacher from Kermanshah. However, despite all of these releases, Mohammad Habibi Khozani himself was kept in temporary detention while his case was referred to the court.
He spent more than four months in the Greater Tehran Central Penitentiary after which he was transferred to Evin Prison.
In late June 2018, an open letter signed by 6,500 teachers and civil activists was submitted to the Parliamentary Education Commission demanding Habibi Khozani’s release. The letter was circulated throughout various parliamentary commissions, including the Education Commission, amongst representatives of the Islamic Consultative Assembly, and the Ministry of Education.
Ten-Year Prison Sentence and 74 Lashes of the Whip
On August 3, 2018, Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Courts presided over by Judge Ahmadzadeh, sentenced Mohammad Habibi Khozani to seven years and six months in prison on the charge of “gathering and colluding against national security,” 18 months imprisonment on the charge of “propaganda against the state” and 18 months imprisonment and 74 lashes on the charge of “disrupting public order.” The court also sentenced Habibi Khozani to a two-year ban on any activities involving political parties, associations and groups, and a travel ban. In accordance with the Consolidation of Sentences principle in Iranian law, of the total sentence, seven and a half years of imprisonment is enforceable against Habibi Khozani.
The appeals proceedings were presided over by Judge Zargar on November 24, 2018. The judge upheld the lower court’s verdict and informed Hossein Taj, Habibi Khozani’s lawyer, of the decision on December 24, 2018.
The following day, Mohammad Habibi Khozani wrote a letter from inside Evin Prison in which he reacted to the Court of Appeals confirmation of the initial verdict in his case: “I have had a meeting with the attorney general’s representative both in the Court of Appeals and in prison (which was held at his request in the chief prison warden’s office in order to follow up on treatment for my physical problems). He emphasized that the prosecutor was favourably considering reducing my sentence, without me making any request about the matter. Even the Court of Appeals judge had informed my lawyers that the court was willing to issue a reduction in the lower court’s sentence.”
Habibi Khozani continued, saying: “However, the initial verdict was upheld completely, without any changes by the Court of Appeals. This once again shows that the fate of political cases is determined elsewhere, outside the judiciary.”
On February 3, 2020, Hossein Taj, Habibi Khozani's lawyer, announced his opposition to the Appeal Court’s verdict and requested a retrial for his client in the Supreme Court. Taj stated that: “Unfortunately, despite the Supreme Court’s initial acceptance of the retrial request and the suspension of the enforcement of [Habibi Khozani’s] sentence, shortly after the case was referred to the Supreme Court and these orders were issued, the request for a retrial was rejected. Of course, if new evidence is discovered or if there are other legal approaches, we will once again request that the Supreme Court issue a retrial request and the reversal of the indictment.”
Habibi Khozani's lawyer also spoke about his client’s transfer from Evin Prison to the Greater Tehran Central Penitentiary: “Mohammad Habibi Khozani’s transfer to the Greater Tehran Central Penitentiary can only be understood as an administrative decision. According to my client, he has not been informed of the reasons behind this decision, and according to the law, prisoners have the right to be informed of the reason for any decision that has been made in relation to them whether for or against. This right has not been observed in Mohammad Habibi Khozani’s transfer to the Greater Tehran Central Penitentiary. However, the transfer seems to be justified as part of the plan to separate and segregate prisoners based on the classification of their crimes.”
Negligence of Habibi Khozani’s Physical Condition in Prison
After having requested medical attention for more than a year, Mohammad Habibi Khozani was finally sent to Farabi Hospital on June 30, 2019, to undergo medical treatment due to poor eyesight. According to the Committee for the Defense of Mohammad Habibi, Habibi Khozani was forced to pay for the cost of his medical treatment, contrary to the Iranian Prisons Organization’s regulations.
Prior to this, in September 2018, when Habibi Khozani was transferred from the Greater Tehran Central Penitentiary to Evin Prison, he immediately requested to have a lump in his left forearm examined by the medical ward of the prison. This resulted in his transfer to the Taleghani Hospital in November 2018 where he was examined and underwent surgery to remove the lump.
However, contrary to the Iranian Prisons Organization’s rules, the prison refused to pay for the treatment. In protest against the illegal and unjust actions of the prison, Habibi Khozani refused to continue the medical treatment for his left forearm. A source close to Habibi Khozani's family told the Human Rights Activists New Agency (HRANA): “Mr. Habibi has been suffering from a tumor on his left forearm for a long time. The tumor has become slightly larger during his incarceration. Following the prison’s refusal to pay for the treatment, Mohammad Habibi Khozani's family have taken on the responsibility to pay for medical treatments. In spite of this, in March last year, Habibi Khozani requested sick leave so that he could undergo diagnostic surgery, however, the prison officials have not responded to the request. We are concerned that his tumour might be malignant and that he has cancer, but the results of the tests are not yet known.”
In October 2018, Amnesty International issued a statement in which they responded to reports of Mohammad Habibi Khozani’s poor health, stating that he had “been experiencing severe pain in his chest and lungs since his violent arrest in May 2018. However, the prison's medical clinic has only injected him with an unknown substance.” Amnesty International called for Habibi Khozani to be granted an immediate medical examination and also demanded his unconditional release.
In May 2018, after Mohammad Habibi Khozani was beaten during his arrest and transfer to the Greater Tehran Central Penitentiary, Habibi Khozani’s family requested that he undergo a medical examination. Prison officials referred him to a forensic pathologist in Kahrizak who determined that he should be referred to hospital for treatment.
After numerous requests, Mohammad Habibi Khozani was sent to Hezar Takhtabi Hospital in handcuffs and with chains on his feet in August 2018, but he still did not receive any specialized treatment.
Termination of Salary and Dismissal
In the summer of 2018, the Ministry of Education ruled that Mohammad Habibi's monthly salary should be terminated and that steps should be taken to issue a leave of absence without pay. The General Directorate and Ministry of Education and the Ministry referred Habibi Khozani’s unpaid leave decision to the Ministry's Administrative Violations Board which approved the ruling. Despite repeated requests and appeals which were denied, the board decided to open the case to reexamining on December 6, 2018, following the widespread protests.
After more than a year had passed since his arrest, officials still refused to provide a definitive decision, giving various excuses for not doing so. At the same time, there were reports that Mohammad Habibi Khoazni had been fired by the board.
On May 26, 2019, the Committee for the Defense of Mohammad Habibi stated that the Shahriar Education Department’s declaration that he had been absent without leave was unjustified as he would not be absent but for the fact that he was imprisoned on the order of judicial officials.
In June, 2019, some 3,000 people signed a petition protesting against the possible dismissal of Mohammad Habibi Khozani. The petition stated that although more than a year had passed since his arrest and the fact that he has continually been denied furlough, the Ministry of Education seemed intent on making a case to issue a dismissal order against Mohammad Habibi Khozani.
On May 20, 2019, the Municipality of Shahriar Education Department issued a ruling that Mohammad Habibi Khozani was taking “unjustified leave” and took actions to end Habibi Khozani’s salary. All of the efforts and requests by Habibi Khozani’s family to overturn this decision have been ineffective.
Education International (EI), an international advocacy group, also condemned Mohammad Habibi Khozani’s arrest in a statement. David Edwards, the General Secretary of Education International, criticized the continued imprisonment of Habibi Khozani and requested his release in a letter addressed to Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian president.
A portion of the letter read: “Habibi Khozani’s treatment is nothing short of a crime, a violation and gross negligence. If anything happens to this imprisoned teacher, we will hold all relevant officials accountable.”
Likewise, the International Confederation of Trade Unions sent a letter addressed to the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in which they condemned the sentence issued against Mohammad Habibi and called for his immediate and unconditional release as well as the official recognition of trade union activities in Iran.
Covid-19 Outbreak in Iran and Teachers’ Union Protests
With the Covid-19 outbreak in Iran, the Teachers' Union of Iran issued a statement in March 2020 in which they demanded that the authorities immediately allow Mohammad Habibi Khozani to be released from prison on temporary furlough.
A portion of the statement referred to the prison officials’ opposition to granting Habibi Khozani furlough from prison, saying: “They are opposed [to granting leave] despite the fact that only two weeks ago, there were a number of Covid-19 cases identified in one cell of Cell Block 2, Section 2 of the Greater Tehran Central Penitentiary. These cases were taken out of the cell block but Mr Mohammad Habibi Khozani is still in grave danger due to his chronic lung problems.”
According to the Coordinating Council of the Iranian Teachers’ Unions, 15 teachers’ unions from across the country wrote a joint letter to Ebrahim Raisi, the Chief Justice of the Iranian judiciary, in which they requested that Mohammad Habibi Khozani and a number of other political and ideological prisoners be granted immediate release or furlough from prison.
In a part of this letter, which was published on April 10, 2020, the signatories brought attention to the poor physical condition of Habibi Khozani, saying: “Among them [the prisoners] is a union activist and imprisoned teacher called Mohammad Habibi, who, despite his poor physical condition and lung disease, is still imprisoned and in serious danger. It is expected that people like Mohammad Habibi will be released as soon as possible, or at least sent on leave, in accordance to your explicit orders and that you will take (immediate) action to secure the release or at least leave of other political and even ordinary prisoners whose presence in society does not pose a threat to public safety [in reference to statements made by Raisi about releasing political prisoners during the Covid-19 outbreak in Iran].”