Extrajudicial death of young Ahwazi prisoner illustrates social contract breakdown in Iran

In any democratic state, the relationship between government and citizens must have a moral compass that ensures the government will act in society’s best interest. As the famous philosopher Aristotle noted, “True forms of government will of necessity have just laws, and perverted forms of government will have unjust laws”. (Aristotle, Book V).

Iran is a leading example of an unjust state, characterised by the unjust laws and policies imposed by the corrupt regime. Stripping the citizens of their liberty, rights, and legal protections, as the ruling regime does, is the hallmark of an unjust totalitarian government. By inflicting terror on its citizens and adding racist persecution to its oppression of the peoples in the colonised provinces within its territories, the regime rules through injustice and tyranny, with citizens who dare to stand up for freedom and human rights targeted for imprisonment, torture and often execution. For the Ahwazi population, as for other minorities, this relentless oppression is also accompanied by anti-Arab bigotry and persecution, with its people subjected to Orwellian surveillance and savage brutality

Amongst the countless examples of this state terror is the case of Benyamin Albuoghibish, who died under torture in a regime detention centre in June of this year, 15 months after he was arrested with his mother and older brother in March 2018 for the ‘crime’ of participating in a peaceful protest against regime brutality and the deteriorating conditions in the region.

Even in the face of the regime’s murderous retaliation, such protests have been growing in size and frequency across Iran since 2017 as conditions continue to worsen for the people due to economic stagnation, corruption and massive regime spending on regional wars and militias.

Benyamin’s parents had feared the worst for their son since discovering that he had been imprisoned in one of the most infamous regime detention centres in the region which is notorious for its torture of inmates. They found out about his death on June 26 through a typically brusque phone call the same day from a regime official who refused to identify himself. According to the statement issued by the family, the official told them, “The boy fell ill and died without [prison staff] knowing the reason behind it.” The family subsequently found out from other sources that Benyamin had been subjected to barbaric torture throughout his detention, eventually dying as a result. Adding further insult to injury, the regime official informed them during the call that their son’s body would not be returned to them for burial, nor would they be informed of his final resting place, adding “Rest assured it [his body] will be buried” before hanging up the phone.

Cases like this and the regime’s refusal to return its victims’ bodies to their families or to inform them of where their loved ones are buried are not unusual; in Ahwaz alone, the total number of dissidents killed under torture in the regime’s prisons and buried in unmarked graves runs into the tens of thousands.

Ahwazis know that any complaint about these or other systemic abuses which amount to crimes against humanity is likely to see the complainant and other family members threatened and very probably imprisoned and subjected to the same torture. In many cases, families aren’t even informed by the regime that their ‘disappeared’ loved ones have been imprisoned or died, finding out through other channels or simply being left in limbo without ever knowing.

The psychological effects of the regime’s cruelty are impossible to calculate, with families torn apart and left without any hope of justice or closure.

Like other totalitarian states, Iran’s theocratic regime uses this state terror as a tool of coercion and control; in Ahwaz, a central part of the regime’s objective is to crush all resistance to its systematic ethnic cleansing of the Ahwazi Arab population, which currently numbers between  nine to ten million in total.

In democratic states, such as Canada, minority rights are protected, with the Canadian government issuing a statement vowing support for the rights of Canada’s indigenous peoples and endorsing the United Nations’ principles in protecting their rights. In Iran, by contrast, the regime treats non-Persian minorities, such as Ahwazi Arabs, Turks, Kurds, Balochis and Turkmen, more cruelly than the Persian population.

Canada’s declaration of support for indigenous peoples reiterates both the individual and collective rights of the indigenous peoples around the world as guaranteed under the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, asserting that these will be based on the principles of equality, partnership, good faith, and mutual respect. It also addresses the rights of the indigenous peoples on issues such as culture, identity, religion, language, health, education, and the safety of the community.

Iran’s regime and Canada’s government are like night and day in their treatment of minorities and indigenous peoples. For the Canadian government, a primary priority is to uphold the rights of all citizens to respect and to peaceful coexistence, regardless of their racial, ethnic or cultural origin. The Canadian government actively works to find ways to provide and protect a just system that eliminates racial or religious bigotry and conflict. In stark opposition to this, Iran’s regime works to sustain and strengthen injustice and bigotry through a cruel and medieval justice system, using state terror, torture and detention camps as means of controlling and subjugating the people rather than supporting and serving them. For Canada’s leaders, the government exists to serve the people; for Iran’s, the people exist to serve the regime.

In Canada, prisons exist for detaining convicted felons found guilty in fair and transparent trials of committing actual crimes. In Iran, prisons are primarily used to punish political dissidents tried at kangaroo trials whose result is already known on charges so ludicrous that no advanced nation would consider including them on their statute books; these include “corruption on Earth”, “waging war against God” and being “foreign agents”. No proof of these allegations is required, though ‘confessions’ obtained under torture are commonly presented in the regime’s ‘revolutionary courts’ as evidence.

For Ahwazis, who view the regime itself as an occupying power since Iran first annexed their formerly autonomous emirate in 1925, the idea of being accused of being “foreign agents” in their own land by a regime seen as the leadership of a foreign colonising enemy power adds further insult to injury.

Similarly, the charge of “corruption on Earth” used by a regime whose corruption is endemic and all-pervasive at every level is viewed as a grotesquely bad joke. The Ahwazi people, whose lands were once bounteous, fertile and richly irrigated by a network of rivers that also provided generations of fishermen with a rich variety of fish sold across the region, take exception to being lectured on corruption by a regime that has plundered their mineral resources – Ahwaz is the source of over 95 per cent of the oil and gas resources claimed by Iran – and dammed and diverted their rivers, leaving their once-lush lands largely barren and heavily polluted.

The charge of “waging war against God”, used to punish any perceived insult or opposition to the Supreme Leader and the theocratic regime in Tehran, is perhaps the most grotesque of all the regime’s insults; even from a secular standpoint, the regime’s crimes and monstrous cruelty seem almost intentionally designed to challenge any belief in a just and loving Supreme Being. For Muslims, the self-declared “Islamic Republic” represents a perversion of faith and of Sharia law just as grotesque as that of the self-declared “Islamic State”, grievously insulting the Holy Quran and Prophet Mohammed, and abusing these sacred texts and a faith founded on peace, justice and fulfilling the aspirations of the people to create a totalitarian state built on hatred, terror, injustice and brutal subjugation of the people. For all but the most zealously sectarian regime loyalists, the “Islamic Republic”, like the “Islamic State”, is itself an affront to God and to his prophets.

Despite the regime’s efforts to quash the Ahwazi people’s will and destroy their hope of freedom, however, Ahwazis and others continue to believe in freedom, democracy, justice and dignity and to refuse to abandon their humanity as the regime’s leaders have done.

A government and society founded on injustice and persecution will never bring peace and coexistence which are antithetical to its values of hatred and oppression. So long as the Iranian regime continues with its persecution and repression, denying the most basic rights of the Ahwazi people and others across Iran, it will meet with resistance; the harsher and more unjust its repression, the more violent the inevitable backlash will be, ultimately resulting in large-scale loss of lives if it continues with its monstrous inhumanity.

A regime like Iran’s that has abandoned justice and any respect for its people and which relies wholly on brutalising and terrorising citizens to maintain power has no legitimacy or right to demand the people’s respect or loyalty. Iran’s regime is now engaged in an existential fight against the Ahwazi people and dissidents across Iran, relying on state terror for its survival. This is the ultimate fate of all totalitarian regimes; without popular mandate and founded on corruption and injustice, they must engage in unofficial war against the citizens they supposedly serve.

In the words of the 19th-century writer and former slave Frederick Douglass, “The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” Iran’s regime is discovering that the people’s endurance of the tyrannical “Islamic Republic” has run out.

Shahab Hamidi,  Student of Global Political Studies based in Canada

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