Opinion Former Article

NASUWT stands up for jailed teacher activists on World Teachers' Day

The NASUWT, the largest teachers’ union, is marking World Teachers’ Day today (Friday) by urging members to stand up for two teachers who have been arrested and imprisoned without a fair trial for campaigning for better rights for teachers.

Omar Alfonso Combita was arrested and imprisoned last October in Colombia on charges of ‘rebellion’. He is an active member of FECODE, the Colombian teachers’ trade union, and the director of the Santana Ramos Education Centre.

The case against Mr Combita is highly dubious and based on discredited evidence. He is one of nine trade unionists, human rights defenders and social leaders to be detained in this case, all of them active in protests against government reforms to education. It appears they have been targeted in order to silence their opposition.

Mahdi ‘Issa Abu Dheeb, President of the Bahrain Teachers’ Association (BTA), and Vice-President Jalila Al-Salman, who is currently released on bail, have been sentenced to ten and three years in prison respectively by a military court for using their position ‘to call for a strike by teachers, halting the educational process and inciting hatred of the regime’. There is no evidence that they either used or advocated violence.

Mr Abu Deeb has been tortured in prison and denied access to medical treatment. The appeal hearing for both men has been repeatedly adjourned.

Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT, said:

“World Teachers’ Day provides an opportunity to draw teachers’ attention to the repression and abuse that these colleagues are suffering for their bravery and courage in standing up for better rights for teachers.

“The NASUWT has been doing everything possible for many months to try to secure the release of both Omar and Mahdi. Their situation is becoming increasingly desperate and we need the support of teachers and the wider public to put pressure on the UK Government to force the authorities in Bahrain and Colombia to set them free.

“We know that these two men are the tip of an iceberg; thousands of workers have been killed, disappeared, imprisoned and tortured, simply for standing up for the rights of themselves and their colleagues to organise and campaign for better working conditions.

“The UK Government, working in hand with international partners, must act now to press the Colombia and Bahraini authorities to end their war on trade unionists.”

Notes to editors

World Teachers’ Day is held annually on 5 October to celebrate the dedication and contribution which teachers make to achieving quality education for all children across the world. This year the theme is ‘Stand Up For Teachers’.

Further details of the cases of Omar and Mahdi and a template letter which can be sent to MPs to call for their release can be found at www.nasuwt.org.uk/WorldTeachersDay.

Lena Davies
Press and Media Officer
Campaigns and Communications Team
0121 457 6250 / 07867 392 746

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