The Need for Justice for Ahwaz

The Iranian regime’s intelligence agency routinely escalates its persecution and detention of Ahwazi citizens, both activists and randomly selected Ahwazi civilians alike, in the periods around and during Ramadan and the Eid festivals. It followed the same pattern this year, using the usual false unfounded accusations to detain numerous Ahwazis, supposedly on suspicion of ‘instigating riots’, ‘spreading corruption on earth’ and other charges commonly used to justify detention of innocent people by autocratic ethno-supremacist regimes. 

The typically callous reasoning behind the regime’s timing is clear, reminding Ahwazis that even during these joyous periods of celebration and spiritual renewal, they are still under the regime’s boot, and live at its sufferance.

To the Iranian regime, the indigenous Ahwazi Arabs of what is now south and southwestern Iran are a thorn in the leaders’ side; ever since the current regime’s predecessors first annexed Ahwaz in the 1920s following the discovery of massive oil reserves there, the rulers in Tehran have attempted to eradicate the Ahwazi people’s millennia-old Arab culture and history, which are viewed as inferior, and to forcibly assimilate and ‘Persianise’ them, in order to rewrite history to create an ethnically monolithic Iran that never existed.

Across Iran, the regime’s infamous Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) imposes draconian rule on the Supreme Leader’s behalf, particularly in ethnic minority areas of Iran, such as Ahwaz, in order to crush any dissent.  For the IRGC and its affiliates, brutality and torture are the norms rather than the exception. In recent months in an alarming new trend of escalation, even prior to Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr, the IRGC has accelerated its usual brutal arrests, detaining hundreds of activists for the ‘crime’ of helping other Ahwazis displaced from their homes by heavy flooding earlier in the year, flooding that the regime has sought to use as a means of forcibly displacing that population.

Amongst those arrested were civilians with no history of activism or political dissent such as Karim Borwayeh, Ahmed Al-Thalabi and Farid Sayahi. Like countless others, nothing has been heard from the detainees since their arrest, and the regime refuses to issue any information, or even to acknowledge that they are in regime custody. Sources in Ahwaz have ascertained, however, that these three individuals are being held at one of the regime’s notorious ‘black site’ prisons, torture centres of which the regime denies all knowledge, where detainees are held incommunicado and subjected to inhuman methods of torture at the hands of  IRGC personnel and intelligence agency staff. The torture is carried out to obtain information, to psychologically break the victims, and to obtain worthless confessions to crimes that the accused had nothing to do with, and many of which are wholly fabricated, but which are nonetheless used as purported evidence in subsequent Kafkaesque trials in the regime’s ‘revolutionary courts’, which commonly take no more than a few minutes. 

Like countless other Ahwazi detainees, Borwayeh, Al-Thalabi and Al-Siahi are all private citizens with families and young children who work in ordinary jobs and have no political affiliations or criminal records. No charges have been brought against them to date, and again, their only ‘crime’ was to provide humanitarian aid to fellow citizens suffering as a result of being made homeless by flooding.

These are, unfortunately, not isolated or unusual cases; this is standard policy for the regime whose persecution of Ahwazis and other minorities is systemic and relentless.  Prior to every such large-scale arrest campaign, the regime first identifies prominent activists involved in any kind of social activism, even environmental activism, and those around them, before launching mass arrests and detentions, with torture a standard policy from the moment of arrest; detainees are routinely sentenced to long-term imprisonment and even death on the most patently false fabricated charges. Any expression by Ahwazis of pride in their cultural or ethnic heritage and even wearing their traditional garb, reciting Arabic poetry or reading Arabic literature is deemed a threat to Iran, with the ‘offenders’ swiftly arrested.

Another example of this is the case of the prominent and popular Ahwazi activist Ahmad Daghagheleh, who publicly condemned the Iranian regime’s savage persecution and racism towards Ahwazis. Daghagheleh, a father of two young children, has not been seen since he was detained, with no arrest warrant, and on unknown charges. He was reportedly taken to one of the regime’s black site prisons. 

A similar case is that of Naji Abboud, a teacher and Ahwazi civil activist who was abducted in Ahwaz on September 13, 2018, and taken to a ‘black site’ where, local sources report, he was held in medieval conditions of solitary confinement for over 50 days and subjected to horrendous torture. 

Ahwazis, who have endured this persecution for generations with the world’s complicit silence, have no doubt that the regime will never be satisfied until it has ethnically cleansed this Ahwazi population and seized their lands and resources; despite this ceaseless oppression, however, decades of injustice and subjugation have only increased Ahwazis’ determination to attain their freedom and the human rights that are their birthright.

While a number of international organisations have condemned the regime’s savage oppression, the world’s leaders have only paid lip service to tangibly supporting the human rights of the Ahwazi people, while continuing to work with the regime as it suits them. However, no matter how many brave activists the regime arrests, the Ahwazi people will continue to work so that future generations will not have to endure such horrors which make a mockery of the timelessly great Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states:

 “Disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in a barbarous act which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people.”

Two articles of the UDHR in particular, Articles 2 and 5, show the contempt in which the theocratic regime actually holds the concept of human rights; indeed, it seems to be deliberately setting out to contravene rather than uphold them. These articles state as follows:

“Everyone’s entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.”

Furthermore, “No one shall be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

The failure to acknowledge these most fundamental human rights is a hallmark of the regime, whose malice and cruelty towards the Ahwazi people in its efforts to obliterate their culture, history and existence is boundless. Iran is the prime example of a country where the ‘rule of law’ is administered by lawlessness and cruelty, perverted and twisted into a dark mockery of its meaning.

Nice speeches and lip service are insufficient for the ‘civilised world’ to truly uphold the values of justice and freedom for which it claims to stand; so long as the Ahwazi people and others are oppressed and subjected to such unspeakable injustice, it is essential that the world makes it clear that transparent freedom, dignity, justice and the rule of law for all are prerequisites for inclusion in the international community.

Ahwazi civil and legal activists are a voice of righteousness for the world and for those languishing in the regime’s prisons; for Karim Borwayeh, Ahmed Al-Thalabi,  Farid Al-Siahi, for Ahmad Daghagheleh, Naji Abboud and countless others before and since,  it is imperative that human rights institutions speak out and that global oversight of this issue is heard and upheld. Iran’s regime must not be allowed to continue with its efforts to extinguish freedom and to crush Ahwaz. 

And so, we call upon the nations of the world once again to uphold their own stated commitments to international human rights. We also call upon the ethnically Persian opposition to the regime to repudiate the dark history of depriving Ahwazi rights as an essential step in resisting this regime and all it stands for. And we call upon the free peoples of the world to petition their elected officials to stand up for fundamental human rights for Ahwaz and its people.

We seek relief from our suffering, from our persecution, relief that this vicious regime will not grant. We seek recognition of basic human rights that are being trampled upon. And we seek to live free in our homeland, just as do most nations on this planet.

And as the leaders of the world take much-needed action against the Iranian regime, we ask only one thing – take notice of our plight. Place our suffering on the ledger of the regime’s crimes, and hold it accountable for us. Or at the very least, give us what has been expressly denied for so long: even the glimmer of a chance of receiving justice.

Shahab Hamidi,  Student of Global Political Studies

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