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Amnesty fears Ahwaz activists ‘secretly assassinated’ in Iran

November 14, 2018 at 5:25 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]

On Tuesday, Amnesty International issued a public statement conveying its deep concern over reports of mass executions of Ahwazi detainees by the Iranian regime following months of detention, supposedly in retaliation for an attack on an Iranian military parade in the Arab region of southwestern Iran.

“Iranian authorities must immediately disclose the fate and whereabouts of hundreds of members of the Ahwazi Arab ethnic minority being held without access to their families or lawyers,” Amnesty said following reports that many of these detainees have also been executed in secret.

Over the past few days, Ahwazi activists living outside Iran informed Amnesty that 22 Ahwazis had been executed secretly by the Iranian regime. On 24 September Iranian authorities detained 600 Ahwazi Arabs in the aftermath of an armed attack that targeted an Iranian regime military parade in the Arab region four days earlier.

Philip Luther, director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme, said: “If the reports of executions are confirmed, the secret execution of those people will not only constitute a crime in accordance with the international law, but it will be a despicable violation against their right to life and a demonstration of sheer contempt for the values based on the Iranian judicial system whose standards are horrible.”

“It is hard to imagine those people were subject to fair trial in the span of few weeks since their arrest, let alone the chance to file appeals against the death sentence verdicts.”

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One of those said to have been executed was Ahmed Haidari, the 30-year-old owner of a ceramic shop. He was arrested a few days after the September military parade attack. His family knew nothing about his whereabouts or fate until 11 November when they received a phone call summoning them to the Iranian intelligence information centre in Ahwaz. The family went along and subsequently received a death certificate for Haidari. The authorities told them he had been executed on 8 November.

Contrary to these reports, however, the governor of Ahwaz has told IRNA that all claims suggesting that the 22 Ahwazi detainees were executed are completely untrue.

Luther indicated that it’s perfectly reasonable to fear that the activists may have indeed been executed since there is still no information on their whereabouts. He added that the regime’s denials of the multiple reports of execution will not reassure the detainees’ families who have been barred from visiting their relatives or having any contact with them since their arrest.

He added that “the announced executions increase our fears that hundreds of the Ahwazi detainees who were arrested following the parade attack may face the same fate, let alone the unspeakable violations in detention centres.”

Amnesty called upon the Iranian regime to reveal the whereabouts of all detainees without delay and to present information on any legal action that has been taken so far. The group further stated that the regime must allow families and lawyers to have contact with detainees, as well as guaranteeing that they’ll be protected from torture and other forms of mistreatment.

The rights group also demanded the immediate release of all Ahwazi Arab activists who have been detained for nothing more than engaging in their freedom of expression, right to assembly, or peaceful defence of their identity.

The Ahwazis stage protests across their oil-rich region of Ahwaz on a regular basis. Their foremost demands include that the Iranian regime ceases its brutal, systematic discrimination. The region is crippled by disease, pollution, abject poverty, desertification, marginalisation and forced displacement, all of which are driven and exacerbated by the Iranian regime’s desire to change the area’s demographic.

International groups such as Amnesty and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) have used their platforms to shed light on the Ahwazis’ sufferings by documenting the dire living conditions, gross human rights abuses, and severe environmental degradations perpetuated by the Iranian regime.

The Statistical Centre of Iran, a regime agency, has acknowledged that the Ahwaz region has the third highest unemployment rate of any region in the country.

Protests broke out in late March over a cartoon aired on Iran’s national broadcasting network which boasted of Iran’s ethnic diversity but omitted Ahwazis from the list of main ethnic groups, effectively denying their existence.

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The current Iranian regime’s persecution of the Ahwazi people is a continuation of a longstanding policy which began in the mid-1920s. In 1924, shortly before the Reza Khan dynasty came to power, Arabistan [Ahwaz] was a semiautonomous emirate which enjoyed all the benefits of being a forward-looking oil-rich region blessed with an enviable geographic position and rich in natural resources.

People run away from the street after an armed attack targeting a military march in the southwestern Iranian city of Ahwaz on September 22, 2018. ( Mehdi Pedramkhoo - Anadolu Agency )

People run away from the street after an armed attack targeting a military march in the southwestern Iranian city of Ahwaz on September 22, 2018. [Mehdi Pedramkhoo/Anadolu Agency]

In 1925, Iran’s regime brutally occupied and seized control of the emirate, with the Ahwazi ruler surrendering to avoid bloodshed. As a result, the Ahwazis lost control over their own destinies, as their homeland was essentially annexed.

After decades of systematic racist persecution at the hands of the Persian monarchy, Ahwazis believed that the advent of the 1979 Islamic Revolution that toppled Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi’s ruling family might finally bring freedom; instead, hardline sectarian elements seized control of the nation and established a Shia Islamic theocratic rule over the country. Rather than the hoped-for liberation, this brought even more brutal and severe persecution, violence and repression against the Ahwazis, which has continued to the current day.

Ahwazis’ suffering is exacerbated by the lack of global awareness of their plight due to the regime’s blanket media ban on coverage, which has essentially given the regime carte blanche to continue with its persecution. Even in Arab nations, the level of knowledge about Ahwaz is severely limited, while it’s almost completely unknown in the rest of the world.

Whilst Iran’s regime continues to present itself as the supposed saviour of the Palestinian people and friend to other Arabs and Muslims globally seeking freedom, its own vicious persecution of the Ahwazis exposes this claim as the monstrous lie it is.

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