Feb 15, 2023

Kurdish language teacher Zara Mohammadi released from prison

Kurdish teacher Zara Mohammadi, who was imprisoned by the Iranian regime for teaching the Kurdish language and literature to children, was released on the 10th of February from the Sanandaj Correctional Center. She was freed after having served one year of her sentence and without any prior notice. The BBC named Mohammadi as one of the 100 inspiring and influential women of 2022, for her dedication to promote minority languages.

In May 2019, she was arrested in her home city of Sanandaj, in Kurdistan province, by the Iranian secret services and transferred to an intelligence-run prison on charges of endangering national security: she was teaching Kurdish, her mother tongue. She was then released on bail six months later on 2 December 2019. In July 2020, a court sentenced Mohammadi to ten years imprisonment for "forming a group against national security". In October 2020, following an appeal, her sentence was commuted to five years, which she began serving in January 2022.

Her liberation coincides with that of other high-profile captives. Timed with the 44th anniversary of the Islamic Republic, Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, has announced pardons and commutations of sentences for thousands of prisoners. However, it is unclear how many of them will be ultimately released, as there have been similar proclamations in the past with very few real implications.   In a video statement posted on social media, the educator and activist said that neither she nor her lawyer signed any amnesty petition and that she will never do so, as that would mean accepting being guilty of something she is not. "I declare that I will never ask for pardon, and I will be firm on my course", she asserted. Zara Mohammadi has a master's degree in geopolitics and is co-founder and director of the Nojin Cultural Association, an organisation set up to promote the teaching of the Kurdish language in Iran, amongst other activities.

UNPO reported her case to the international community  

In close collaboration with Mohammadi's family, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) and the Kurdistan Human Rights Association-Geneva (KMMK-G) lodged a complaint with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in May 2022. The document reported on the case of Zara Mohammadi, but also denounced the general use of arbitrary arrests and imprisonment to prevent the free exercise of the rights to cultural and linguistic expression in the Islamic Republic of Iran.  

Since its foundation, UNPO has been advocating for a multilingual Iran that reflects its massive ethnic diversity. Iran’s Constitution only provides for Persian as an official language, but also stipulates that the use of regional and tribal languages is permitted in some contexts. However, the struggle for linguistic emancipation is repressed by the Iranian authorities, often under the guise of national unity and security.