13 elected board members of the Jordanian Teachers’ Syndicate, including its acting head, Nasser Nawasreh, were released on bail after completing the mandatory one-month detention period on Sunday, August 23. The top leaders of the country’s largest teachers’ union, which has over 140,000 members, were arrested on July 25.
The lawyer representing the union, Bassam Freihat, confirmed the news of the leaders’ release. He also told reporters that along with the union leaders, the court had also released numerous teachers who had been arrested around the same time.
The arrest and detention of the union leaders last month was part of a wider crackdown by the Jordanian authorities on the teachers’ union and the thousands of teachers associated with it. The crackdown took place in response to protests in different parts of the country against the government’s failure to deliver on the demands it had agreed to last year. After the month-long protests that took place September 2019, the government had promised increased salaries along with better working conditions for the teachers.
In April, the government went back on its promise. They cited lack of funds and the economic slowdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason.
In the crackdown that ensued, the government ordered the closing down of the union for two years. Security forces also raided several of the union’s offices and branches around the country, arresting its top leaders. Following the raids and the closure order, the leaders were charged with obscure and unclear charges such as ‘incitement’, as well as other criminal and corruption charges, without any details being made public. The government also issued a gag order on the media from reporting on the issue as well as on other developments and ‘investigations’ into the leaders.
The teachers intensified their protest following the closure of the union and the arrests of its leaders. These protests were also met with government heavy-handedness and force, in which the security forces reportedly attacked the protesting teachers with metal batons and tear gas canisters. The violent suppression of multiple protests was condemned by Jordanian civil society groups and activists, as well as by human rights organizations.
While the union leaders and teachers have now been ordered to be released by a judge following the completion of one-month detention, it is not yet clear whether they are still going to face any future legal action. The union continues to remain closed even as Jordan’s schools are set to reopen on September 1. Several teachers employed at state-run schools are reportedly returning to work to prepare for the new term even as there is still no definite and clear resolution to the union’s demands. There is also no word from the government regarding the work and employment status of the 140,000 odd teachers belonging to the largest public sector union in the country.