On July 14, 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 preschoolers.
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, the undersigned, 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.