While Palestinians are killed daily with the complicit silence of the international community, Iran’s regime presents itself as the heroic defender of Palestinian and wider Arab freedom. In fact, it subjects Iran’s Ahwazi Arab population in southwestern Iran to the same murderous brutality and racist contempt as Israel does Palestinians, with the same complicit silence from the world.
Another young Ahwazi man, 20-year-old Hatem Marmadi from the city of Khafajiya, died last week under torture in a prison in the eponymous regional capital Ahwaz. Marmadi was abducted a year ago from his family’s home by the regime’s feared intelligence agents in connection with participating in political and cultural activities. Such arrests without any warrant or notification are standard, with Ahwazis routinely arrested and imprisoned for ‘crimes’ such as wearing their traditional Arab garb, teaching their native Arab language or participating in any political or social activism for human rights. As Arabs, Ahwazis are, in effect, second class citizens, subjected not only to the regime’s usual totalitarian persecution but to additional racist bigotry and routinely depicted in state media as savage barbarians, with slurs such as “lizard-eaters” and “camel-piss-drinkers” being common.
Although Hatem’s parents attempted to find out where he was being detained, and on what charges, regime authorities refused to release any information and failed to charge him with any crime. His desperately worried family continued to hope he might at least be alive until last Tuesday when they received the standard, dreaded brusque phone call from a regime official telling them to collect his body. The regime authorities also banned the family from holding any funeral or the ritual funerary ceremonies to mark his burial, fearing further protests in the region where tensions over decades of murderous oppression and injustice have already led to massive anti-regime demonstrations. Intelligence officials also told Hatem’s grieving family not to discuss their son’s death or the regime’s abuses with media or human rights activists; when family members refused this additional insult to his memory and spoke out about the case, his father and brother were also arrested for speaking to foreign media.
Following his death, Ahwazi activists launched a #HatemMarmadi hashtag campaign on Twitter to raise awareness of the case and of the regime’s routine murderous abuses of Ahwazis who dare to call for freedom and human rights. The activists accused the regime’s infamous intelligence division of subjecting him to torture which eventually killed him in one of their black site secret detention facilities across the country where tens of thousands of political prisoners are detained incommunicado.
Other, non-Arab Iranian activists also participated in the campaign, condemning the regime’s brutal murder of Hatem Marmadi, along with its routine murders, enforced disappearances, torture and abuse of Ahwazi and other dissidents and activists. The regime military and affiliated militias are currently cracking down even harder than usual on any dissent in an effort to quell the nationwide protests and strike action which have been growing since late last year against its endemic corruption and brutal oppression.
It should also be noted that Hatem Marmadi’s family were “lucky” to even receive his body; in many cases, both in Ahwaz and across Iran, the regime never notifies the relatives of the disappeared that their loved ones have been executed or died under torture, simply throwing their bodies into unmarked graves, with other prisoners left to covertly pass on the news of their deaths.
Also, reports emerged on 28 March 2018 that an Ahwazi Arab prisoner in Iran has died under torture in a regime prison, with horrific video footage showing marks left by torture all over his body after it was returned to his family.
Adding insult to injury, prison personnel warned the dead man’s family that they should not treat their loved one as a martyr since he had been a troublemaker, inciting riots amongst other prisoners, an allegation his family treated with contempt.
The body of 50-year-old Ali Sawari was returned to his family in the Sepidar neighbourhood of Ahwaz city on Monday 26 March by officers from Sheyban Prison near the regional capital. The distressing video footage shot by his family members, who risked their own lives to show the world the horrific torture inflicted on their beloved son, sibling, husband, and father, shows his body covered in scars and bruises from torture. According to family members it seems probable that Ali Sawari, a married father of four children, was tortured to death by an infamously sadistic guard known as Hamidian in retaliation for complaining about the atrocious conditions at the notorious prison.
Following his death at the hands of Hamidian, prison staff rushed his body to the morgue and called his family members to come and fetch it. The prison officer, Hamidian, who’s infamous across the region for his vicious sadistic cruelty and the depraved pleasure he takes in the brutal torture of Ahwazi political prisoners, previously worked at the notorious Karoon Prison which recently closed down, before being transferred to Sheyban Prison.
The Ahwaz or Arabistan region, formerly an autonomous emirate which was occupied through military force by Iran in 1925 and was given the Farsi name of Khuzestan by the Shah’s regime in 1936, houses over 95 per cent of the oil and gas resources claimed by Iran. Despite this, the vast majority of the native Arab people live in conditions of medieval poverty, denied the most basic rights. The regime imports ethnically Persian personnel to manage and staff its oil and gas fields and other business interests, offering these incomers generous subsidies and incentives to move to the area and housing them in purpose-built, heavily guarded, ethnically exclusive settlements where Ahwazis are forbidden from living. These communities are provided with modern services and facilities denied to the indigenous people, who are routinely expelled from their homes and lands without notice or compensation to make room for more settlements. Vast shanty towns have sprung up around the region’s cities to house the dispossessed.
Despite the very obvious parallels with Israel’s racist oppression and persecution of Palestinians, the regime in Tehran still depicts itself, with no apparent sense of irony, as a supporter of freedom and justice for Palestine and a supporter of the oppressed, adding grotesque insult to its endless grievous injury of the Ahwazi people.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.