The international community continues to fail Ahwazis as illegal arrests surge 

Despite relentless oppression by Iran’s regime, Ahwazi Arab people of Ahwaz in the south and southwestern of Iran  continue to use every chance to express their pride in their heritage culture and identity, holding events throughout Eid al-Fitr including concerts, poetry recitals, and traditional dance displays that underlined and celebrated their strong Arab identity and historical roots. This year’s events were also an opportunity for the people to express solidarity with the hundreds of Ahwazi activists arrested and imprisoned in recent months as the regime ratcheted up its already brutal oppression several more notches in response to protests.

In response to the regime’s latest crackdown, during the Eid al-Fitr holiday following Ramadan Ahwazis took to the streets of the capital, Ahwaz, for demonstrations demanding the release of detainees,  with the protesters’ chants including “Eid Mubarak; my brother’s locked up in prison”, “The martyrs’ mothers call on us, saying Ahwaz is our beloved homeland”, and “The celebration of Eid is incomplete with hundreds of Ahwazis in prisons”.

The crackdown  by the regime’s security services and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ (IRGC) infamously brutal intelligence services has continued and intensified over the past two months, with IRGC intelligence personnel arresting 800 Ahwazi voluntary aid workers and activists who participated in relief efforts following the deadly floods that submerged towns and villages across the region and displaced thousands of Ahwazis.

Amongst the latest arrests, Iranian security forces and intelligence personnel arrested an Ahwazi citizen named Ahmed Al-Thalabi at his workplace in the regional capital’s Thoureh (Alawi) neighbourhood, taking him to an unknown destination.

Ahmed Al-Thalabi

Informed Ahwazi rights sources said that the security forces detained Al-Thalabi without any official authorisation or arrest warrant. There are fears that he may have been detained in one of the Iranian intelligence services’ infamous ‘black site’ prisons in Ahwaz, unofficial detention centres used for torture, whose existence the regime does not acknowledge.

Sources also told the Dur Untash Studies Centre (DUSC) that another Ahwazi national Karim Borwayeh was arrested on June 2, 2019, after being summoned to the headquarters of the Iranian intelligence in the capital city Ahwaz.

Karim Borwayeh

Borwayeh was summoned via a phone call from the intelligence services without any legal justifications or charges. He was arrested upon his arrival at the headquarters building.

Borwayeh, a married 35-year old father of three, who lives in the capital city Ahwaz and works at a street market, was previously arbitrarily imprisoned for 60 days last year before being released without charge.

As is standard, the Iranian regime did not compensate Borwayeh for the period of unlawful detention, in contravention of all international human rights legislation, which provides for the necessity of compensating political prisoners if authorities fail to bring charges against them.

In addition to these cases, credible Ahwazi rights sources also reported that the Iranian intelligence services had arrested other Ahwazi human rights activists, including Mohammed Obaidawi in the town of Shawur near Susa city and Hussein Barihi from Falahiyeh city, both of whom were taken to an unknown destination.

The DUSC has been unable to discover the reason for these detentions or the whereabouts of the detainees.

Cultural crackdown

Iranian intelligence service officials also arrested Ahmad Daghagheleh, the former Secretary-General of al-Hilal cultural institution and one of the most prominent Ahwazi cultural activists, on June 2.  Daghagheleh, a married 40-year-old father of two from the Al-Azizia neighbourhood of Ahwaz city, was taken to an unknown destination, which sources fear could be one of the intelligence service’s infamous ‘black site’ secret detention facilities used for torture, whose existence the regime refuses to acknowledge, despite their infamy amongst dissidents.  No reason for Daghagheleh’s detention has yet been given, with the arrest taking place, as is the norm for the regime, with no official authorisation or arrest warrant.

Ahmad Daghagheleh

Although such abuses are not unusual for the regime, the rate of these arrests across the Ahwaz region has escalated sharply in the past few months as the regime attempts to crush protests, especially in the wake of the devastating floods that submerged large parts of the region in spring of this year, which were deliberately caused by the regime which opened the gates of dams upstream on regional rivers while blocking the river mouths running int the Gulf to protect oil and gas facilities there, causing massive flooding of towns and villages that displaced hundreds of thousands and ruined thousands of acres of farmland.  The fact that the floods coincided with the anniversary of the 1925 Iranian annexation and occupation of the Ahwaz region simply added further insult to this historic injury.

Talking about the regime’s vicious oppression, prominent American lawyer and human rights activist Irina Tsukerman, told DUSC, “The regime’s recent crackdown which included the arrest of hundreds of Ahwazis, even during the month of Ramadan, shows its increasing insecurity over the role of non-Persian nations, such as Arabs. They are driving increased opposition to their cruelty. This is evident in the content of the songs and other cultural means of expressing identity among Ahwazi Arab opposition,  who, besides the songs traditional for  Eid al-Fitr, have put a particular focus on expressing solidarity with Ahwazi Arab prisoners that provides morale to family members and friends  suffering persecution, isolation, and torture in prison, but is also a form of peaceful resistance to the regime’s attempts to suppress the Arab sense of identity.”

Tsukerman added, “These new cultural forms should be recorded and disseminated widely in the West, even among extremely constrained conditions. It is possible for a nation to preserve its culture and thrive spiritually. It is also a way of spreading information about their tribulations to the international community and deserves recognition and support. Unfortunately, most of the international community does not know who the Ahwazi Arabs are, much less their songs and the distinctiveness of their culture. Therefore, in addition to highlighting the human rights issue, we need an effort to connect with international organisations and cultural institutes, and to educate them about Ahwazi culture.”

“Horrendous, horrific and arbitrary”

The legal expert continued, saying, “The systematic human rights abuses in Ahwaz are described as horrendous, horrific and arbitrary. They are being perpetrated on a large scale and the number of cases subject to these abuses hits record numbers according to reports by local and global rights organisations. There are thousands of detainees including men, women, children and elderly. There are thousands of others deprived of the freedom of movement and travelling. Yet, hundreds of Ahwazis have been denied their right to immigration and employment. Furthermore, they were displaced from their homes. All these gross violations have been committed against the Ahwazis for expressing their opinion, demanding reform, change and an end to the policy of discrimination and marginalisation against the Ahwazis by the Iranian government.”

Tsukerman added, “The irony is that the Iranian regime is ready to use the most gruesome means of repression against all those who condemn or oppose its policy, even if these tools include peaceful protests. The regime does not respect even the most basic human rights principles. The regime hunts, kidnaps, arrests and assassinates citizens at home and overseas. Also, it has not respected social customs and traditions as it arrests, tortures and sexually harasses women according to witnesses from concerned rights groups.”

Strongly condemning the silence of international institutions and Western governments on these crimes, Tsukerman said, “The deadly silence shown by the world, especially the West and the US, towards these human rights violations and unspeakable abuses is a disgrace haunting the international community, which has become an accomplice in these crimes, providing political cover for the regime and providing it with weapons and security equipment to achieve its own interests at the expense of the people.” 

Ominous sign for the future

The legal expert further warned that the international community’s silence on the Iranian regime’s abuses of the Ahwazi Arabs and other minorities in Iran is an ominous sign for the future, saying, “Also, the silence shown by world leaders gives the regime a pretext to continue its repressive practices against minorities. There are frightening signs about the future awaiting the non-Persian peoples in Iran. These peoples effectively live in a big prison. They face repression and a police state amid global silence from the UN and the international community which claim to support freedoms, human rights, democracy and the right of self-determination.”

Speaking about the long history of Iran’s persecution of Ahwazis, which predates the current regime, Tsukerman said, “In this context, the Iranian regime has been arresting the Ahwazis since Iran annexed the Arab region nine decades ago.”


Maryam Hayavi Mehr: An Ahwazi reporter 

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