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UN Denounces Muzzling of Teachers Union in Jordan

FILE - Security forces block a road as teachers protest in Amman, Jordan, Sept. 5, 2019. Thousands of Jordanian teachers held a protest demanding higher wages, with some scuffling with security forces.

The U.N. human rights office calls the decision to close Jordan’s Teachers Syndicate another blow to the union’s freedom of association and to its ability to operate without governmental interference.

U.N. rights officials say they are deeply disturbed by the increasingly restrictive and heavy-handed measures being imposed on the independent trade union right to freedom of opinion and expression. They cite worrying reports of excessive use of force by security forces late last month against hundreds of demonstrators who were protesting the arrest and suspension of the Teachers Syndicate’s leaders.

U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville says his agency has serious concerns about a growing clampdown on press freedoms. He says a recent order by the attorney general to ban all news stories about the syndicate’s closure and the arrest of its board members tramples on peoples’ civic rights.

“The actions against the Teachers Syndicate, which has over 100,000 members, and its supporters, are emblematic of a growing pattern of suppression of public freedoms and the restriction of civic and democratic space by the Jordanian government, including against labor rights activists, human rights defenders, journalists and those who have peacefully criticized the government,” said Colville.

The government and the Teachers Syndicate have been engaged in disputes over low teacher salaries in public schools since the union was formed in 2011. After a four-week strike last October, the government agreed to raise teacher salaries from 35 to 74 percent, depending on their professional level.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Colville says salary increases have been frozen until the end of the year, raising tensions with the syndicate.

“While Jordan is clearly facing an economic crisis, like many other countries, partly because of the COVID-19 restrictions, we encourage the government to engage in good faith negotiations with the Teachers Syndicate about their concerns rather than imposing measures that unlawfully restrict the rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly, opinion and expression,” said Colville.

Schools are closed for summer holidays but are due to reopen at the end of the month. However, the U.N. human rights office warns further pressure on the Teachers Syndicate may trigger more strikes, resulting in additional school closures. Among the losers, it says, would be the children, who would be deprived of their right to education.