Zara Mohammadi is a 27 year old Kurdish teacher and a Non-Government Organisation (NGO) activist in Iran. She is from Sine, the capital of the Kurdistan region in the country. She is dedicated to teaching Kurdish to students who otherwise cannot learn Kurdish in schools.
Zara was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment by the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Courts in July 2020. Her crime was to be a Kurdish teacher.
Although teaching and studying minority languages is permitted in the constitution of Iran, it has never been meaningfully practiced. So Zara and her friends founded an NGO called ‘Nojin’ to teach Kurdish. This led to her criminalisation.
She was interrogated by Iran’s Intelligence Organisation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and then arrested in her hometown of Sine on 23 May 2019. She was subjected to harsh interrogations and torture during this period.
The court decided to sentence her to 10 years imprisonment, to represent each year she taught Kurdish.
After her arrest, she published a video on instagram about her “crimes”. She states: “My crimes are teaching my mother tongue, distributing chocolates on Mother Tongue Day and helping the victims of floods in Luristan”.
Zara’s case drew outrage from many human rights activists, human rights organisations, members of the public and public intellectuals worldwide. Amnesty International called for Zara to be released and started a campaign on her behalf on Change.org.
Academics from all around the world also showed their support for Zara and appealed to the Iranian government to allow Kurdish to be taught in the country. Here is the full statement below, signed by ninety-five prominent academics worldwide, including Noam Chomsky, İsmail Beşikçi, Barzoo Eliassi, Ibrahim Sirkeci, Janroj Yilmaz Keles and Feryad Fazil Omar.
A Statement in Support of Zara Mohammadi
On 14 July 2020, an Islamic Revolutionary Court in Iran sentenced Zara Mohammadi to 10 years imprisonment for teaching Kurdish language on a voluntary basis. Zara Mohammadi is a co-founder of the Nojin Cultural Association, a civil society organisation focused on societal and educational initiatives, including teaching the Kurdish language and literature.
The Islamic Revolutionary Court’s verdict insinuates that Zara Mohammadi’s Kurdish instruction threatened Iran’s “national security”. It is worth noting that the Revolutionary Courts are not constitutional. According to Article 61 of the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, “the judiciary power is exercised by the Public Courts of Justice [dādgostarī]”.
Moreover, while Iran’s constitution explicitly privileges the Persian language as the country’s official language and language of education and therefore marginalises other languages spoken in Iran as “tribal” and “local”, it does explicitly allow the instruction of non-Persian languages (Article 15). Despite this clear stipulation regarding the legality of the use of non-Persian languages, over the past 40 years the Islamic Republic of Iran has refrained from implementing Article 15 of the constitution and consistently treated non-Persian languages as threats to Iran’s national security.
The Revolutionary Court’s latest ruling against Zara Mohammadi is therefore only the latest instance of the Islamic Republic’s securitization of the promotion, even by private individuals, of non-Persian languages.
To make matters worse, in 2019 the Islamic Republic’s Ministry of Education declared that pupils’ lack of Persian proficiency in preschools would be categorized as “abnormal”, to be treated with special measures. The Iranian state has thus pathologized a lack of Persian proficiency, turning it into a biological issue for non-Persian pre-schoolers.
The Islamic Republic of Iran’s clear and systematic discrimination against non-Persian languages are in clear violation of several international conventions and covenants, including the United Nations’ International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, of which Iran is a signatory.
We condemn the Islamic Revolutionary Court’s unlawful verdict, call for immediate acquittal of Zara Mohammadi and an end to discriminatory policies in Iran against non-Persian languages.