According to “Trauma defined for English-language learners”, “Trauma is often the result of an overwhelming amount of stress that exceeds one’s ability to cope, or integrate the emotions involved with that experience” (“Trauma Definition”. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Archived from the original on August 5, 2014). Throughout history, the Middle East region has been rife with potentially traumatizing events and environments. Many regions have been or remain today embroiled in deadly disasters and tragic calamities that have claimed the lives of many innocent people. The average civilians in this region, especially women and children, have experienced exceedingly stressful events that have left them feeling hopeless and desperate – traumatized emotionally and often physically by their disturbing experiences.
In Ahwaz, a country which is occupied by Iran, many Ahwazi families have experienced an extraordinary degree of trauma due to the terroristic methods of the Iranian regime. This regime has adopted a particularly inhumane policy towards any Ahwazi Arabs who are striving to defend and elevate their chronically denied human rights. Iran systematically employs a savage practice involving systematic threats, arrests, torture, imprisonment and execution towards any Ahwazi man, woman, or child who expresses dissenting opinions or demands civil rights. The trauma that the Ahwazi people have developed as a result of this Iranian oppression has had a profound impact on the communal psyche. This trauma has left Ahwazi people conflicted on how to exist in their lives while struggling with daily distressing emotions and memories.
Painful experiences often take much time to heal from, and many of the effects never fully go away. For many Ahwazi, the traumas they have suffered remain ingrained in their memories forever and the pain from it reverberates through time.
The Iranian regime has executed an astonishing number of people who have expressed dissenting opinions or extolled anti-regime sentiments. According to Amnesty International, the number of executions per year in Iran equates to more than three every day – including men, women, and juveniles. After 1979 when the Khomeini regime rose to power, hanging became the most common method for punishing opponents of the regime and human rights activists. This occurred all over Iran but was especially common in the non-Persian provinces. Despite many human rights organizations (including the United Nations, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch) urging the Iranian regime to halt these executions and calling on them to abolish the death penalty, this brutal policy of killing dissenters continued and intensified. During the reign of Khomeini, punishment by death for political activist became the norm. Non-Persians were killed by the regime at unknown places/times and thereafter buried in unknown tombs – often in mass graves.
This prevalence of punishment via the death penalty varies from nation to nation in Iran. But collective punishment (i.e. the punishment of a labelled criminal’s family as well) has emerged strongly in Ahwazi Arab’s provinces. The Iranian regime has been invoking unwritten practices that automatically punish family members of people who have violated the regime’s authority. This kind of family punishment was introduced as an amendment to laws related to opposition of the regime. It mandates strong penalties for a family member of those who are found to have engaged in any actions of opposition towards the regime – including peaceful protests and advocacy. This punishment can be imposed on any family members of an accused activist – including parents, children, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, grandparents, great-grandparents, grandchildren, or even great-grandchildren.
International Law explicitly bans countries from punishing people based on blood relation or familial ties. The Iranian regime has stated publicly that they will abide by these international directives but continues to enact abuses upon political dissidents’ family members. These abuses can also include forced disappearances, whereby family members go missing and the regime feigns no knowledge of their whereabouts – all the while the individual languishes alone in prison.
Some human rights organizations have tried to draw attention to the prevalence of families being punished under an Iranian law which says that family members are automatically guilty, via association with a political dissident, of the same violation. This runs contrary to the International law which requires that no person may be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due legal process.
Hadi Rashedi and Hashem Shabani, two ethnic Ahwazi activists from Khalafieh city in Ahwaz, were sentenced to death on 16 December 2014. They were transferred to an unknown location for more than 50 days before being executed. Habib Rashed, Hadi’s brother, has spoken out about the disappearance and execution in shock: “The Iranian intelligence department called me and said they executed them three-four days ago and they continued by saying ‘we will let you know where their graves are in future’.” The Iranian regime not only took the life of these two men but deprived their families of being able to have a ceremony to bury their loved ones with dignity. This is bound to leave a massively traumatic mark on their minds.
The families of Hadi and Hashem, like many Ahwazi families of political dissidents, were imprisoned after their sons’ executions. During the families’ detentions, they were subjected to severe pressure and threats. Abdulkarim Dehimi, an Ahwazi Defender of Human Rights said:
The Iranian regime is pursuing an illegal process when dealing with these Ahwazi families. The violations involve 4 stages:
- “No news in the implementation of Death sentences” – executions have been carried out secretly and without informing the lawyers and families of prisoners.
- “The bodies of Hadi and Hashem and other prisoners who were executed were not handed over” to their families.
- “No funeral and showing no compassion for the dead” – the Iranian regime officials threatened their families and prohibited them from holding any memorial or funeral ceremonies. They also warned people against gathering at the homes of those executed.
- “The intelligence threatened the family of victims about having any contact with the media or answering human rights organizations.”
This is a common process practiced on the families of all Ahwazi political activists who have been executed by the Iranian regime.
More than three years after their executions, the Iranian security and judiciary services refused to give any real information to the families of Hadi and Hashem. But the families of these two victims were not the only ones denied information. Dozens of other families have come forward saying the regime enacted similar practices upon them. Bodies of many executed activists remain buried in unknown locations, and their families have been left in the dark about their fate. This is intrinsically traumatic for the families of the victims.
The intent behind what the Iranian regime is doing to Ahwazi activists – such as secret execution, hidden burial, and failure to inform the victims’ families – is to leave the families living in deep trauma. This violation of human rights occurs so often in Ahwaz even though, according to regulations relating to the implementation of death sentences, judicial authorities are obligated to release notice to both lawyers and family at least 48 hours prior to execution. Also, the person sentenced to death is supposed to be able to claim their right, as guaranteed by law, to meet with their family one last time before execution. However, none of these provisions have been implemented for Ahwazi prisoners.
On November 3, 2013, Ghazi Abbasi, Abdul-Reza Amir Khanafereh, Abdulamir Mojaddami, and Jassim Moqaddam Panah from Falahieh city in Ahwaz were transferred from prison to an unknown location and then executed at a non-identified time. They were then buried in an unknown location. Abdul Rahman Heidarian, Taha Heidarian, Abbas Heidarian (three brothers), and Ali Sharifi, four other Ahwazi activists all Mallashiyeh city in Ahwaz, were executed June 18, 2012, after being transferred to an unknown location. Their families have so far received no information about the location of their burials.
The UN Human Rights Committee has called out the Iranian regime for “ambiguity covering the exact date of death and place of burial, as well as refusing to grant the bodies [to families’] for burial, as an example of intimidation that is clearly reflective of the practice of punishment against the parents of the victims.” They added, “the families remain in a state of uncertainty and shock.” The UN Human Rights Committee declared such conduct as being “inhumane and humiliating to the family members” and asserted that it violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Chapter VII.
Although the existence of secret executions and hidden burials have been denied by Iranian authorities as being done with an intention to punish families of Ahwazi victims, further evidence of secret mass executions in Ahwaz and other illegal acts perpetrated against minority ethnic groups in Iran seems to hint otherwise. While great strides were made globally in 2015, with 169 of the 193-member states of the UN execution-free for one year, it is imperative that we not ignore the continued cruelty many nations enforce on their own people with the death penalty. We must raise awareness of countries where the state of human rights has continually deteriorated and the application of capital punishment has continued.
The opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of the Dur Untash Studies Centre.