Teachers Forced to Leave Jobs

Government gives no reason why teaching staff are being summarily dispatched to work as paper-pushers in distant locations.

Teachers Forced to Leave Jobs

Government gives no reason why teaching staff are being summarily dispatched to work as paper-pushers in distant locations.

Monday, 20 April, 2009
The authorities in Syria have forced more than two dozen teachers to leave their posts and take administrative jobs in offices far from their homes.

Between March 1 and April 10, the government instructed 27 teachers and three other school staff members from cities across Syria to change their workplace. The decision was based on a security service order derived from Article 31 of Syria’s Labour Law, which allows for the transfer of employees “in the public interest”.

“No one can explain exactly what ‘the public interest’ means,” said a human rights activist, who asked to remain anonymous. “It’s a catch-all expression that is capable of being twisted to suit the government’s wishes.”

He speculated that some of the teachers might have been targeted because they were involved in activism.

“The Syrian authorities have a long history of putting pressure on activists by placing their jobs under threat,” he said.

In June 2006, 17 public servants lost their positions after signing the “Damascus-Beirut Declaration”, a statement which called for the normalisation of relations between Lebanon and Syria.

A year later, Ragheda Issa, wife of the prominent lawyer and human rights activist Anwar al-Bunni, was dismissed arbitrarily from her job at the state road transport agency in May 2007 after her husband had been sentenced to five years in prison.

Yet the human rights activist pointed out that many of the teachers affected by the order “had no direct ties to the activist community”.

IWPR obtained a copy of one of the orders, which contained instruction for transfers without giving any reason or explanation. The document stated simply that the head of the education department had ordered the teachers in question to be transferred to administrative work, “in the public interest”.

Three of the four teachers forced to leave schools in the north-central city of Al-Raqqa had never engaged in political or social protest, according to one of the teachers, who has served time in prison for advocating greater civil liberties.

“These orders are based on pure speculation,” he said. “The security services don’t verify information [they obtain] and the Ministry of Education has no power to protect its teachers by contesting these orders.”

Mustafa Osso, an lawyer who heads the Kurdish Organisation for Democratic Freedoms and Human Rights in Syria, said fewer than half of the 16 Kurdish teachers who were relocated had a background in activism.

“They [seem to have been] suspected of being connected to the Kurdish liberation movement without any evidence,” he said. “These orders are nothing less than an attempt to intimidate the Kurdish people of Syria.”

Human rights organisations which have been keeping track of the relocation process suggest there is no clear pattern to the timing of the transfers, or the staff affected.

The teachers and school employees singled out worked in Al-Raqqa, Al-Hasaka in the northeast and Al-Swaida in the southwest.

“No one knows why these individuals in particular were targeted,” said the human rights activist. “But authorities view the education system as an important way of shaping the thinking of the younger generation. I suspect that the criterion they use is not just whether a teacher is an activist, but also whether he or she is an independent thinker who does not adhere to the regime’s ideology.”

In Al-Raqqa, one teacher was transferred to a workplace 100 kilometres from where he lives, while a colleague was sent some 130 km from his home. Another teacher was sent about 120 km far from his neighbourhood, while a fourth from Qamishli was transferred about 140 km away from his home.

One of the teachers said his daily commute used to take him five minutes, but now he was spending two or three hours a day travelling. “It's a disaster,” he said.

Osso noted that teachers were struggling to pay the extra travel costs.

“In some cases, the transferred teachers have to pay up to 43 US dollars a day to get to and from their new workplaces, while their monthly salary is only between 125 and 325 dollars,” he said.

The orders have resulted in more than increased travelling costs and wasted time, say teachers.

“This feels like exile,” said one of the teachers. “I no longer have students to teach. I’m an administrative clerk, which means I sort papers all day rather than do the work that I believe in.

“That shows our government doesn’t really care about educating our children, otherwise they wouldn’t punish honest teachers shortly before the end of term, just as we were about to prepare our students for their primary exams.”

The human rights activist, who asked to remain anonymous, said some teachers have inquired about appealing the transfer orders.

“Are we citizens of this country or just visitors with no rights?” asked one of the teachers. “What has happened to us could happen to others, and if we don’t stand against these unfair procedures, then no one else will.”

Yet he said he doubted whether any appeal will be successful.

“No judge will override a security service order,” he said.
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