The Iranian regime has continued its brutal crackdown on local aid workers in Ahwaz, reportedly arresting at least 150 volunteer relief workers in recent weeks as they tried to help hundreds of thousands of fellow citizens dispossessed by massive flooding in the Ahwaz region. The regime itself has refused to provide any aid, and instead chose to deploy troops, assisted by foreign militias to attack those protesting at their plight.
To date, the catastrophic flooding has destroyed 273 villages and affected 22 towns, with the number of victims and displaced people in the region surpassing half a million.
Following the mass arrest on Monday April 29 of a large number of local people who’ve organised aid convoys for their compatriots, the regime arrested more aid workers, including teachers, later in the week as they tried to bring food and aid to the people left destitute by the flooding.
The arrest campaign was coordinated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) using security forces and affiliated regional militias, and was prompted in party by the regime’s anger at the Ahwazi people’s voluntary efforts to provide aid when the regime benefitted from keeping the people on the verge of catastrophe as part of its longstanding efforts to compel Ahwazi migration from their oil- and mineral-rich homeland. The regime’s real anger was triggered, however, by the Ahwazi formation of popular committees, and its fear that any organising by the Ahwazi people may bolster activism and calls for freedom and human rights. Instead of allowing these people to help, the Ahwazi volunteers face criminal accusations for “forming unauthorised organisations.”
#Iran has arrested more than 70 aid workers and stopped the flow of news, reports, pictures and short films reflecting the conditions of hundreds of thousands of #Ahwazi people in the drowned districts. It is more than a month that about 300 Ahwazi villages&towns are drowned. @UN
— PADMAZ.org (@PADMAZorg) May 5, 2019
The volunteers, who have worked tirelessly to do what they can to help the hundreds of thousands displaced by the massive flooding, have been raising funds locally to provide food, tents, and medical aid to people forced to abandon their homes due to the flooding and the regime’s deliberate diversion of floodwater to Ahwazi populated areas.
Rather than helping the displaced people, the regime’s forces have stolen the money donated and almost all the aid sent to help those left destitute by the flooding, which has been diverted and distributed among the regime’s own loyalists in ethnically Persian areas, in an effort to buy their continuing support amid rising anger at the regime.
Ahwazis protesting against the regime’s blatant, but depressingly predictable anti-Arab racism and abuse of the aid workers and its shocking criminal negligence towards the people dispossessed by the floods have themselves been targeted for attacks, persecution and arrest.
The IRGC has supplanted the Ahwazi volunteer committees with its fiercely loyal foreign extremist sectarian militias and armed groups, such as the Iraqi Hashd al Shaabi, the Afghan Fatemiyoun, and the Lebanese Hezbollah. Despite supposedly being deployed to the flood-stricken areas of Ahwaz to help the displaced people, these armed groups – which are included on international terrorism lists – have been terrorising the displaced and anyone trying to help them.
The local popular committees have also angered Iranian authorities by publishing and broadcasting many documents, photographs, and video clips via social media, which conclusively prove that the IRGC and the Ministry of Oil deliberately diverted floodwaters to residential areas so that they would not flow to the delta area housing oil and gas facilities.
In protest of recent arrests of their teachers,#Ahwaz -i students holding placards demanding immediate release of teachers and local aid workers who were arrested for being involved in supporting #Floods -affected families in the region. #IranFloods @hrw @amnesty @UNHumanRights pic.twitter.com/gKoPfiHVmI
— Rahim HAMID (@samireza42) May 5, 2019
Volunteers arrested in recent days, three of them teachers, have been identified as:
- Naji Sawari, a 38-year-old teacher who lives with his wife and three children in the regional capital, Ahwaz, and works at the city’s Talqani school.
- Maher Dasoumi, a 30-year-old teacher from Ahwaz city, is married with one child, and works as a cultural researcher and teacher in the Sheiban school.
- Ali Abidawi, a 36-year-old teacher, who lives in the Thoureh (Alawi) neighbourhood of Ahwaz with his wife and three children, is a teacher at the Quds school in Hamidiyeh.
- Abdullah Farisat, a 27-year-old cultural activist from the Baharestan neighbourhood of Ahwaz, is a member of the Popular Committees to Assist Flood Victims.
The 34 aid workers detained last week by the regime’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps have been named as:
1 – Rasul Fartousi
2 – Ibrahim Badawi
3 – Amin Silawi
4 – Ali Mousawi
5 – Hassan Beit-Isaac
6 – Imad Heidari
7 – Ali Nasri
8 – Hatem Dahimi
9 – Ahmad Badawi
10 – Hussein Hamoudi
11 – Mahdi Sherifi
31- Sajjad Heidari
32- Adnan Mousawi
33- Sajjad khedheiri
34- Sayed Hashim Mousawi
New York-based international human rights lawyer Irina Tsukerman commented on the fact that mainstream human rights organisations have been disturbingly silent:
“Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have given negligible attention to the systematic nature of Tehran’s abuse against Ahwazi population, creating false and selective impression that only a core group of activists is subjected to inhumane treatment. These stories are not subjected to any media or political campaigns by these organisations and get lost in the stream of news, especially in light of the juggernaut of international outrage over irrelevant cases exaggerated by state-backed media elsewhere. These organisations have abnegated their duty to uncover and expose the vast crimes of human rights abuses, becoming willing accessories to and facilitators of the conspiracy of silence Iran has created with respect to its treatment of non-Persians internally and across the Middle East.”
This is an Arabic-Farsi dictionary written by a teacher named Naji Aboud. He has been arrested by the Iranian regime for the 'crime' of providing aid to flood victims in Ahwaz, after the regime prevented foreign aid from reaching the Ahwazi Arab people. #UnlawfulDetention pic.twitter.com/0zS7mLJY5i
— Aaron Eitan Meyer (@aaronemeyer) May 2, 2019
Another New York-based attorney and expert, Aaron Eitan Meyer, agreed with Ms. Tsukerman’s analysis that the silence of human rights organisations is what allows Iran to flagrantly disregard international law. He added that the United Nations defines impunity as the “impossibility, de jure or de facto, of bringing the perpetrators of violations to account – whether in criminal, civil, administrative or disciplinary proceedings – since they are not subject to any inquiry that might lead to their being accused, arrested, tried and, if found guilty, sentenced to appropriate penalties, and to making reparations to their victims”, and that impunity is considered a serious crime under international law, yet there has been no appropriate action taken by any transnational organisation or by any powerful nation. He finally noted that impunity is not bound by any statute of limitations, and so the Iranian regime can be held to account years or even decades after these crimes are being committed in plain sight.
For the people of Ahwaz, however, assistance is needed right now. Before further mass arrests take place. Before the regime’s terrorist militia proxies can commit the crimes against humanity that define their organisational existences. And before the half a million displaced Ahwazis begin to succumb by the scores or thousands as this catastrophic crisis continues. All of the regret and tears will not help after the fact. There is no military option, but if neither actual aid nor diplomatic and economic measures are forthcoming from responsible nations and international organisations, the Ahwazi people will have no choice but to pursue legal action against the regime in every court available to them.
Rahim Hamid is an Ahwazi author, freelance journalist and human rights advocate. You can follow him on his twitter account: https://twitter.com/samireza42
The opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of the Dur Untash Studies Centre.