Fears are growing that the Iranian regime intends to execute at least 30 Ahwazi detainees, possibly en masse, in the near future, taking advantage of the world's attention being diverted to the standoff between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
The planned execution was announced at a press conference on 19 September, by Hassan Shahvarpour, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). He said that Ahwazi detainees that were to be executed were arrested in connection with an attack on an IRGC military parade in the regional capital, Ahwaz city, on 22 September 2018. The names of those to be executed are yet to be released.
Ahwazi local activists fear that the regime will use this as a pretext to execute a number of activists and dissidents, some of whom were in prison at the time of the attack on the military parade where 25 people, mostly IRGC personnel, were killed. Immediately after the attack, the regime rounded up hundreds of individuals, including women and children. Shortly after this, the Ministry of Intelligence released a video showing 22 people who it claimed had been arrested in a private home where the authorities said they had found explosives and military communication equipment.
Despite the arrest of these individuals and the Iranian regime's efforts to link the attack to Daesh which attempted to take credit for the attack, security forces, police and IRGC personnel launched another brutal wave of arrests, with the regime ultimately detaining over 600 Ahwazis, including women, children and elderly people, and holding them in solitary confinement without charge for months.
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Many of those arrested were taken to some of the regime's infamous "black site" prisons, unofficial and unmarked detention centres where detainees are taken for torture. Those arrested told family members in phone calls or messages that they had been subjected to severe beatings and torture in order to coerce them into making false confessions. Relatives have expressed grave concerns over the detentions and the fate of their family members.
Their fate has raised the concerns of rights groups. Irina Tsukerman, American rights activist based in New York, said: "Iran is about to commit a mass atrocity in part to whitewash its own atrocities against Ahwazis under the guise of fighting terrorism." She described the incarceration of the Ahwazi as "an affront to human decency, international law, and international security."
Tsukerman also suggested that Iran was guilty of cultural genocide. "The Islamic Republic has gone out of its way to erase Ahwazi Arab identity, culture, and history," she said. The assault on the minority community, she added, was carried out by classing it a dangerous separatist movement, while the gruesome mass execution was designed to send a powerful message to the Ahwazi people that their campaign for human rights has no hope of prevailing. Tsukerman believes that the execution will have the added effect of convincing the West that these are just some radicals who are trying to destabilise the country and to start a civil war; feeding the West's fears. The human rights activists warned that unless these manipulations are exposed, Iran will continue to divide its critics and dehumanise Ahwazis and continue its aggression.
The Arab region of Ahwaz has never witnessed any terror activity or other operations by Daesh, which further exposes the efforts of the regime's security services and the IRGC to link the region to terrorist organisations.
Attacks on Ahwazis have been escalated in recent years as public anger grows over worsening poverty and corruption and over the endemic racial abuse to which Ahwazis and other non-Persian ethnic peoples are subjected. Ahwazis, for example, are forbidden from publicly speaking or being educated in their native Arabic language, dressing in their traditional Arab garb or celebrating their traditional culture; amongst those detained for this "offence" are Ahwazi poets and singers, some of whom have been executed for their Arabic-language work. Despite Ahwaz holding more than 95 per cent of the oil and gas resources claimed by Iran, the region's peoples are among the poorest in Iran, living in medieval conditions.
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In addition to these cruel injustices, the people of Ahwaz and other minorities in Irna are subject to forced displacement, with Iran's regime making efforts to change the demographic composition of Ahwaz in order to strengthen Tehran's control. Under the current cruel and medieval regime, public executions and arbitrary killings of unarmed young Ahwazi men on the streets and in public squares have become commonplace, along with law-defying indiscriminate arrests. In order to exploit and profit from Ahwaz's massive natural resources of gas, petrol and water, Iran's regime pursues sadistic policies of economic and cultural oppression and many other criminal policies which are internationally illegal as well as morally repulsive.
As a result of all these injustices, the people of Ahwaz have struggled constantly in their uphill battle for freedom through dozens of revolts and uprising.
The people of Ahwaz still lack international support of their legitimate rights, which prevents their revolution for freedom from being victorious. Due to this international impunity, the Iranian regime deals harshly with the people of Ahwaz, using excessive force, killings, torture in jails, along with routine executions and assassinations of public figures at home and abroad, as have been seen in the Netherlands and Denmark.
Speaking about the Ahwazi people's suffering, Palestinian-British activist Raed Abu Shemala based in Glasgow said: "The Iranian regime has exploited the cause of Palestinian freedom for years while subjecting the Ahwazi people to the worst suppression – it silences Ahwazis, denies them even the right to speak about their suffering. None of us stand a chance against the Iranian regime that is carrying out a program of systematic ethnic cleansing in the Ahwaz region. This regime is doing its utmost to remove Ahwazis from their land, to flatten every inch of it to construct new industrial complexes or build massive housing developments for non-Ahwazi outsiders to alter the region demographic balance in favour of Iranian-Persian speaking settlers."
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Raed added: "The absolute censorship of the press, media blackout and human right organisations' negligence have been a serious obstacle for Ahwazi activists attempting to raise awareness of the systemic racism and abuses perpetrated against the Ahwazi people, allowing the regime to continue these inhuman and supposedly internationally outlawed policies. We are with Ahwazis as with all oppressed peoples – all the regional and global powers want Arabs to be divided, but we need to stand together for universal freedom, peace, and human rights."
The pretexts given for the regular imprisonment and execution of Ahwazis range from "threatening national security" to "opposing the Islamic revolution" and "destabilising the security, stability and unity of the [Iranian] nation". The Ahwaz Human rights groups have strongly condemned the latest unjust death sentences, along with others, calling for fair and transparent trials for all defendants and detainees in Ahwaz. The rights groups also called on the UN and international human rights organisations to put pressure on the Iranian leadership and the Iranian judiciary to allow detainees to appoint defence lawyers, receive visits from family members and be tried according to the standards laid out in international charters to which Iran is a signatory.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.