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Iran’s Crackdown on Native Languages

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1999 declared February 21, as the International Mother Language Day.

Since 1999, February 21 has been International Mother Language Day, as declared by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and supported by the Iranian regime.

This and Article 15 of the Iranian Constitution, which states that “regional and ethnic languages” are permitted in the media, school literature, and in everything bar official documents that are produced in the official language of Persian, might lead you to believe that the various languages spoken in Iran – Azeri, Kurdish, Arabic, Turkmen, Gilaki, Mazandarani, Taleshi, Lori, Baluchi, Laki and Tati – are respected. This is not true.

Punishing non-Persian speakers

In fact, the regime limits the Azeri, Kurdish, Arab, and Baluch ethnic minorities’ participation in cultural and political activities, while ethnic minority children are not allowed to learn their native tongue in school, with teachers even being arrested, tortured, and imprisoned for a long time for teaching these languages.

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Zahra Mohmmmadi, a 30-year-old Kurdish civil society activist, was charged with national security offences for teaching the Kurdish language and coerced into signing false confessions, without a lawyer present, because the police threatened to arrest her family.

In 2020, the regime even shut down two publishers of Turkish-language books – ‘Tak Takhtar’ and ‘Andisheh No’.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, ethnic minorities are being forced to choose their children’s name for a book of pre-approved Persian names, which means they are deprived of naming them based on their religious, ethnic, or cultural identities. Iran’s Registry Office has even refused to issue birth certificates for newborns with non-Persian names, like Aisha or Yagish. (This might actually violate the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.)


Many ethnic minority rights activists used World Mother Language Day to criticise the regime for its policies and present petitions (and other literature) in non-Persian languages.

The regime cracked down with mass arrests and heavy prison sentences. Those activists arrested include Behnam Sheikhi, Hamid Manafi, Alireza Farshi, Akbar Azad, Kianoosh Aslani, and Tohid Amiramini. Sheikhi, Manafi, Farshi, and Azad, are currently detained in the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran, while Aslani, and Amiramini have been sentenced to 12.5 years in prison on charges of “conspiracy to disrupt national security” and “propaganda activities against the regime”.

It is clear that despite pretences, the regime does not support minority rights in Iran and the only solution is regime overthrow, as advocated by the Iranian Resistance for the past 42 years.

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