Another young Ahwazi activist has reportedly died under torture in an Iranian regime prison, three months after he was arrested along with his brother. His family was not given his remains and has been forbidden from holding the customary mourning rituals for the dead.
Ahwazi Arab activists in southwest Iran said that 26-year-old Benyamin Alboghbiesh was arrested by officers from the Iranian regime’s infamous intelligence service in a raid on their home in the Zaytoun Karmandi neighbourhood of the regional capital, Ahwaz City, on March 15, along with his brother Mohammad Ali Alboghbiesh, aged 29.
Benyamin’s family reportedly received a brief phone call from a regime official on Wednesday, June 26 to inform them that he had died at one of the intelligence service’s notorious detention centres.
Jassem Alboghbiesh, a relative of Benyamin, based in a European country, said, “They killed Benyamin under torture; he was young and healthy, and had no medical problems. He was put under pressure from the moment he was arrested, with intelligence agents threatening to torture his mother, who’d been taken to Sepidar Prison, if he resisted and didn’t follow the agents’ orders.”
Benyamin Alboghbiesh and his brother, Mohammad Ali, had previously been arrested along with their 56-year-old mother, Maryam Zobeidi, in 2018 for participating in the protests which have spread across the region since 2017 as a result of increasing regime brutality and worsening economic problems. The brothers and their mother had angered the regime by participating in cultural activities, through ‘crimes’ such as organising poetry recitals.
All three were charged with the regime’s customary allegations of having contact with “foreign agents”, as well as ‘corruption on Earth’, ‘waging war against God’, and threatening national security. Although they denied the patently false charges, they were tortured into issuing confessions, which were broadcast on one of the Iranian state TV news channels, with all three shown ‘confessing’ to having contact with overseas political parties. The brothers were released in June 2018 on bail of 400 million Tomans (US $ 9,527) until the end of their show trials, while their mother, Maryam, was transferred to the Sepidar Prison, wherein she endured months in solitary confinement and severe head trauma from torture. After she began to suffer kidney failure, her medical condition forced the regime to release her rather than pay for any medical care.
Benyamin and Mohammad Ali were re-arrested in January 2019, and released after two months, this time on ‘bail’ of 200 million Tomans. On May 26, 2019, they were arrested for a third time, with Benyamin being transferred to one of the intelligence service’s infamous black site detention centres, and Mohammad Ali transferred to the infamous Sheyban prison. Once more, Mariam was arrested and sent to the Sepidar Prison.
— Rahim HAMID (@samireza42) June 24, 2019
Ahwazi activists in the region say that in the March raid on the family’s home, Ahwazi intelligence services forces also seized the family’s cell phones, impounded Mohammad Ali’s car and confiscated 45 million Tomans.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, one member of the Alboghbiesh family told the Dur Untash Studies Centre (DUSC), “From the first moment, the regime agents threatened their mother to destroy her by killing her sons if she didn’t cooperate with them by confessing to having contacts with other activists inside and outside the country, and saying we were inciting people to carry out acts of sabotage in Ahwaz. The relative continued, Benyamin mother begged them a hundred times, ‘Kill me, execute me but don’t hurt my sons – they’ve done nothing, they are too young to be victimised for a crime they did not commit or even hear about before now.’”
Pausing to dry her eyes, she continued, “On Wednesday afternoon, an unknown number called me, and a man’s voice said, ‘listen carefully, Benyamin died, and we don’t know why. He got sick; he was unconscious.’ He told me to let all the family members know, ‘no mourning, and also please forget about your Benyamin’s body; for security reasons, we aren’t going to let you know about the location of his grave, but be sure we will bury him.'”
Benyamin’s death, like those of countless other Ahwazi detainees killed under torture in Iran’s prisons, was not reported in Iranian or international media, with no human rights organisations speaking out against this atrocity, which is simply one more everyday crime against humanity perpetrated by the regime. It cannot be stressed enough, that this young man’s political imprisonment, torture and state-sanctioned murder is not unusual – it is business as usual for this regime.
In a similar case in June 2018, 20-year-old Hatem Marmadi from the city of Khafajiyeh, died under torture in a regime prison in the capital, Ahwaz. Marmadi had been abducted a year earlier from his family’s home by regime intelligence agents, charged with participating in political and cultural activism. There too, the regime refused to hand over his body to his grieving family or to inform them where he was buried.
On Monday, March 26, 2018, the body of 50-year-old Ali Sawari, an Ahwazi prisoner, was returned to his family in the Sepidar neighbourhood of Ahwaz city, by officers from the Sheyban Prison near the regional capital after he too was murdered under torture aimed at extracting confessions from him.
In still another case, 35-year-old political activist Mohammed Odeh Hammadi died in the Molathani Clinic in Ahwaz City on November 27, 2015, after being rushed there from prison where he was serving the seventh year of a ten-year sentence for ‘acting against national security’. After seeing his body, Hammadi’s family reported that they had found marks around his neck, suggesting that he had been tortured to death. His death took place a few days after that of Satar Sayahi, known as Abu Srour, a celebrated Ahwazi poet also killed under torture in a regime prison.
The impunity that has resulted from the world’s silence means that the regime freely targets Ahwazis randomly, often simply to intimidate others and underline the regime’s absolute power. Intelligence service personnel routinely abduct activists without any formal arrest procedures, take them to one of the black site prisons and torture them to death before simply dumping the victims’ bodies in nearby rivers. This was the horrific fate of Ali Batrani, a young Ahwazi man from the regional capital, who was arrested there during the protests of April 15, 2005. Three days later, on April 18, his body was found floating in the Karoon (Karun) River.
Speaking to Amnesty International about his case, his family reported that his horrifically tortured body, still bearing the marks of handcuffs, was not returned to them until weeks later on May 10, recalling torture marks like a hole in his knee, heavy bruising to his face and on the soles of his feet that showed he had been subjected to ferocious beating. The family then had to pay a fee to the regime that murdered their son to be given permission for his burial.
In another case, 38-year-old Gheiban Abidawi, a married father-of-four from the town of Hamidieh who worked at a dairy goods manufacturing plant in Ahwaz City, was arrested by regime security forces during the post-Eid al-Fitr prayers in his home town on Friday, October 13, 2007.
According to a family friend, his family received no news of him for close to three months, as the regime predictably refused to issue any information on his whereabouts or even on the reason for his arrest despite their desperate pleas. Finally, after three months, an official at the Ahwaz Information Office called the family to inform them that he was dead, with security agents taking his son and brother to the morgue in the city to see his body, which they said showed clear signs of torture. Adding further insult to injury, the family was not allowed to take the body for burial or even know where he would be buried, and they too were forbidden from conducting the customary mourning and burial rituals.
There are countless other horrific stories. On November 5, 2012, a 45-year-old Ahwazi citizen named Jameel Suwaidi, a welding worker in the capital city of Ahwaz was abducted by Iranian intelligence agents in front of his home in al-Nahda neighbourhood (Lashkarbad). For thirty days, his family desperately tried to locate him, to no avail. Finally, a friend of the family who was working in the local forensic department told them that to stop searching for Jameel in jails as he was already dead, his body sent by Intelligence services to the Ahwaz forensic department. The family confirmed that his entire body exhibited signs of torture, multiple puncture wounds, his cheeks were broken, his nose and his teeth disfigured, and the skin of his genitals horrifically burned and peeled off. Jameel ‘s ‘crime’ was taking part in nightly protests in Ahwaz and organising cultural activities in his home.
Earlier that year, 20-year-old Nasser Alboshoka, who had been arrested on January 26, 2012, died after being tortured in an Intelligence services detention centre on January 20, 2012. Young Nasser’s neck was darkened with bruising, as were his ribs and waist, evidence that he had been tortured and choked. His family’s efforts to even learn why he had been arrested were met with silence. He was not politically active.
Mohammad Kaabi, a young Arab from Susa city, was arrested by the intelligence forces after being seen of organising nightly protests as well as writing graffiti and slogans on the walls of streets calling for protest. On February 2, 2012, Intelligence services informed his family that he had died, and that they were to collect his body from the forensic department, but forbidden from holding any mourning ceremony for him. He had been tortured to death in the regime’s secret detention cells.
New York-based human rights lawyer Irina Tsukerman told DUSC: “After repeated warnings about the conditions of Ahwazi activists, the international community put no pressure to get accurate information, access to doctors, or to secure immediate release; one prisoner already died under torture. No one has heard of this case; most people don’t even know where, or even what Ahwaz is, despite the numerous articles produced by this Centre (DUSC) and other writers about this issue.”
“By leaving this young man to die under torture without any repercussions for the regime, the United Nations, the so-called human rights organisation, and the Western media and governments are sending a message that they only care about Iran’s brutality when it is convenient to do so. Unless their own economic interests are somehow affected, the lives of individuals who have been dehumanised and made invisible by effective regime propaganda seem of no interest to those who spend millions on media and political campaigns devoted to meaningless incidents and reviving old stories.”
“This disgraceful treatment of Ahwazi prisoners should be on everyone’s conscience. There should be mass marches on Washington and Iranian Mission at the UN to demand immediate release of remaining prisoners and accountability for these deaths and for the torture. There should be an international boycott of anything coming out from Iran that requires any sanction from the regime until such point that the regime stops arresting and torturing or disappearing Ahwazis and many, many others.”
“And certainly, by now the fact that there are no sanctions imposed on members of the government responsible for decisions which have led to this result shows that neither the Trump administration nor anyone else is truly serious about “maximum pressure” on Iran and that in the event of a new deal, the international community will sell out Iranians and non-Iranians affected by the regime’s terrorism and brutality just as was done with the first deal.”
“Human rights are largely used as a talking point, but there has been no serious attempt to hold Iran accountable for any of the unconscionable actions it has taken within its own borders either for its own citizens or for foreigners. The speeches about getting justice or rolling back Iranian influence are nothing more than words. Until the regime feels pain not just for the threats it presents to economic interests of powerful states but for the misery it induces on the most vulnerable, nothing will change.”
In all of these cases, the regime acknowledges no responsibility for the victims’ deaths, and families have no legal recourse for complaint or hope of compensation; any effort to demand investigation into their loved ones’ death or even to speak out publicly to condemn these terrible acts is likely to result in other family members being targeted.
Attorney Aaron Eitan Meyer agreed that this systemic abuse is “in flagrant disregard of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and virtually every international covenant that has been enacted over the past 150 years. It is also in direct conflict with even the most basic understanding of human rights, much less the obligations of a government, but that goes without saying by this point. This is why Iran is not a signatory to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court; there is already more than sufficient evidence to bring charges, but since that court lacks jurisdiction over this misbegotten gangster state, it cannot be held accountable in that court of law at present.”
Meyer continued, “I will offer some free legal research to the regime: read up on the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, and the Special Courts for Sierra Leone. The regime’s allies, which have insulated it from the full consequences of its deplorable actions both internally and externally, still need its resources. That does not mean that they will continue to need this regime. As it is written, to everything there is a season. And the Iranian regime’s season to receive justice is nearing.”
There is more reason for optimism. On June 28, 2019, Amnesty International called upon the Iranian Regime to “urgently carry out an effective and impartial investigation into the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of” Benjamin Alboghobiesh, and further noted that it has documented 11 similar deaths in custody under suspicious circumstances since December of 2017.
The regime’s ability to torture and murder Ahwazis and other political prisoners depends on its impunity internationally and on the silence of the world. When the world begins to condemn these crimes, then real justice can follow.
Rahim Hamid is an Ahwazi author, freelance journalist and human rights advocate. You can follow him on his twitter account: https://twitter.com/samireza42