Creating new perspectives since 2009

Arab Ahwaz in Iran’s prisons malnourished and tortured

September 11, 2017 at 4:44 pm

Ahwazi Arabs protest Iran’s oil exploitation & human rights abuses outside the London offices of the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) on 3 July 2016 [Peter Tatchell Foundation]

An Iranian regime “Revolutionary Court” in the Arab Ahwaz region has sentenced two Ahwazi human rights activists to death and another six to life imprisonment, using charges of ‘Moharebeh’ or “enmity to God” as a pretext for the grotesquely harsh sentences.  The names of the activists on death row are Abdullah Abdullahi (Kaabi) 33 –years- old and married with three children, and Qassim Beit Abdullah (Kaabi),31-year-old.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, fellow activists in the region said that the activists, all from the town of Sousa, were arrested in September 2015 and detained in one of the regime intelligence service’s infamous secret “black site” prisons for two years, where it’s believed they were tortured into signing confessions, before being subjected to a trial where no evidence was presented against them.

The regime is reportedly intensifying its already brutal repression of Ahwazi Arabs in an attempt to crush any human rights activism.

It accused the eight men of forming an anti-regime group and of conspiring with foreign entities to carry out terrorist acts against the regime; as usual, it presented no evidence of these accusations, with other activists in the region stating that the charges were patently false, adding that there has never been any group of that name nor was there any such conspiracy. Fabricated charges of this nature are commonly used by the regime against any dissidents or anyone speaking out for human rights.

Activists in the region said that the Iranian regime is working tirelessly in an effort to have Arab activists imprisoned or executed on false charges in an effort to terrorise human rights campaigners into silence.

On 17 August 2016, Iranian authorities upheld previously issued death penalties against three Arab activists, two of them brothers, on charges of “spreading mischief on earth” and “threatening national security”.

The three executed and were identified as 20-year-old Ahmed Abidawi, 25-year-old Qais Abidawi and their cousin 26-year-old Sajjad Abidawi.

A human rights monitoring group in the region said that these sentences are pre-decided before the accused are even brought to trial, with the verdicts settled on behind closed doors and defendants denied any right to defend themselves, with most tortured into signing false confessions.

Read: Pollution threatens the Ahwazi Arabs of Iran

The regime has stepped up its use of torture, amputations and executions in recent years, now holding the record for the highest per capita annual execution rate globally; even the high number of executions officially admitted to by the regime is believed to be a fraction of the total. The international community’s silent complicity effectively gives the regime impunity to carry out crimes against humanity on a large scale. Vague charges such as “enmity to God”, “corruption in the land” and “spreading mischief on earth” are routinely used to justify executions, with the members of the country’s ethnic minority groups, such as Ahwazi Arabs, Kurds, Baluchis and Turkmen  – who collectively make up more than half of the total population – being the most harshly and brutally oppressed.

The regime’s already brutal oppression has worsened in the Ahwaz region since the 2005 uprising, which was triggered by a leaked letter from a regime official confirming plans for further largescale population transfers and ethnic cleansing of Ahwazis. Although activists regularly appeal to regional and international human rights organisations to help in raising awareness of the people’s plight and to intervene to stop the executions of innocent people whose only “crime” is to want freedom and human rights, these pleas fall on deaf ears.

Karim Dahimi, Ahwazi rights activist based in London, reports that since the popular uprising of 2005, 111 Arab activists have been killed, 64 of them were killed by Iranian security forces during the 20-day uprising and hundreds of people, most of them under the age of 17, were severely injured. With regards executions, beginning with the uprising, 50 people were hanged by the Islamic Republic of Iran, prosecuted for political and cultural activities on charges of enmity to God and acting against national security. They were executed after show trials which lasted less than ten minutes without the right to challenge the charges brought against them. The accused were presented in the court room only to be presented with their sentence.

Dahimi added that through forced confessions and the orchestrated fabrication of cases against these activists, the Iranian Intelligence service colluded and collaborated with corrupt judicial officials to legitimise the brutal and unjust trails. The defendants were not allowed legal representation. Minutes after having been convicted, based on the intelligence service’s reports of forced confessions extracted under torture and threats, they were sentenced to death. Their executions followed the Supreme Court’s perfunctory ratification of the sentences.

An Ahwazi Arab ex-political prisoner who wished to remain anonymous said: “The political prison in Ahwaz is called ‘white death’ – where detainees are kept locked inside, deprived of access to basic services, and cut off from contact with the world. There is no summer air conditioning in Ahwaz’s ‘vocational training complex prison’ also called ‘Sheyban prison’ and electricity is cut off on a daily basis. Small portions of food are distributed in the prison by contractors. Often, these ratios do not satisfy hunger, as the amounts are small and the quality is poor. This often leads to chronic poor nutrition and bouts of food poisoning. Some prisoners have demanded officials enhance the quality of food (by including fruits, vegetables, and meat) or improve the subpar living conditions (such as repairing air conditioning). These requests are never met with positive responses from officials and protesting prisoners face threats of exile to other Iranian provinces.”

He added: “The rooms are often very small and 26 prisoners are kept in each, but in the section where I lived, there were 20.”

There is no healthcare or medicine in the facility for political prisoners. If it were to become a medical emergency, a prisoner could not even be transported to a real hospital without explicit permission from the intelligence service agents. Of course they often don’t allow even the sickest of political prisoners to leave for life saving medical treatment.

“The majority of the prisoners suffer from severe starvation because the food given is absolutely disgusting – reeking of putrid camphor. Many refuse to eat. The political prisoners are not allowed to do sports more than two times a month. If they request for officials to increase the amount, they will be faced with the threat of exile to much worse prisons, such as Aligudarz in Lorestan province.”

“When family is permitted to visit, which doesn’t happen often, they aren’t allowed to give prisoners any reading materials such as books or newspapers. Political prisoners are systematically denied medical furlough or humanitarian leave to see their family – even if they’ve had a death in their immediate family. That’s why we see so many of the prisoners so emotionally broken and devastated,” the former detainee explained.

“Because political prisoners often come from modest, if not impoverished, backgrounds, they don’t have access to money. Not having money means you will die and no one will care about you. When you do not have money you have to eat the terrible prison food. If you want better, you should have made sure to have money to buy from the prison store. ‘Without money, you will go to hell and die’ is a sentence commonly said among prisoners.”

“In the winter it can get very cold. There’s often no heat and we would have to bathe in freezing cold water. So many of us had kidney pain in winter, the scars of lice are still on my skin. There are no educational classes, and anytime they agree to offer classes, a Mullah is sent from the intelligence service to supervise it.”

Another Ahwazi Arab former political prisoner, who also wished to remain anonymous to be protected from regime prosecution, said: “The Arab political prisoners are not allowed to wear Arab dress and even their family is not permitted to wear Arab dress when visiting. Persian prisoners banished to Ahwaz from other provinces are treated totally different by prison officials. For example, there was a Persian political prisoner who was accused of being a spy for Israel. He was sentenced to five years, but was able to get out to see his family on bail right away. After he returned from seeing his family, he stayed in prison only five more months and was then released. Now compare this to Ali Mazraeh, an Ahwazi political prisoner whose spine was damaged due to torture two years ago. He managed to get out of prison temporarily for medical treatment, but after returning, he’s not been allowed to leave again for his surgery – even though his family said they are ready to pay for all his treatment costs.”

“Arab prisoner Jaber Sakhrawi suffers from a disease called MS, which is considered a rare condition. According to Iranian law, someone with this disease cannot be imprisoned. His family pays the costs for all his medicine and brings his medication to the prison. However the prison refuses to accept the medication from the family.”

He added: “There is no real doctor in the prison clinic. We had a few prisoners whose appendixes burst and they wound up dying because they were not allowed admission to an outside medical facility. Instead, guards gave them Ibuprofen and Ranitidine before beating the prisoners while accusing them of faking their ailment. Most all of them died. Some prisoners in Sheyban prison were given methadone tablets to treat addiction, but methadone is considered to be even more dangerous sometimes than the addiction they’re meant to treat. Some 1,300 people were given this tablet for the mental and emotional illnesses as well.”

“Each month the IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] would come to visit the political prisoners’ section with a Mullah – berating us and demanding we repent of our crimes against the Islamic republic.”

They targeted political prisoners who were sentenced to life imprisonment – telling them their sentence will be commuted if they agree to travel to Syria and fight with the military.

“When the prisoner wouldn’t be receptive, they’d savagely beat us, ransack our cells and destroy all our belongings.”

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.