Human rights groups have reportedly confirmed that in the past week two Ahwazi young men were extrajudicially killed inside Ahwaz. The first is a young man in his twenties, identified as Mohammed Oudeh Sari, who was chased by Basiji, the regime’s infamous plainclothes security force, while he was driving his motorcycle and gunned down on Tuesday night. He was taken to a hospital in Ahwaz city but died from injuries on Wednesday, 14 August 2019.
The rights groups said Mohammed was shot after he failed to stop at a checkpoint created by the Basiji militia in the Al-Thawra [also known as Alawi] neighbourhood in Ahwaz City. Reports indicate that the checkpoint was set up in a dark area, and the young man was not paying attention and missed it.
The second extrajudicial killing happened on Sunday, 11 August, 2019 as Iranian regime forces shot and killed an unarmed 19-year-old Ahwazi Arab man in his car as he and his cousin drove to visit friends for the Eid al-Adha holiday.
The young man, Abbas Amiri, a resident of the regional capital, Ahwaz, had driven to the town around 96 miles away to visit friends with his cousin for a holiday get-together. As they were passing through the city, they were stopped at a checkpoint manned by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and run by the Basiji. After they passed through the checkpoint, Basiji members began chasing the vehicle for no apparent reason while firing live bullets at it, killing Abbas immediately, with two of the bullets hitting him in the chest and a third hitting him in his kidneys. His cousin, who was sitting in the front passenger seat beside him, sustained serious injuries when the car swerved out of control and overturned several times before coming to rest.
Local eyewitnesses who rushed to the scene to rescue Abbas and his cousin from their overturned vehicle said that regime security personnel ignored the dead youth and his seriously injured cousin, focused solely on searching the vehicle, although they found nothing. The regime security forces subsequently claimed – falsely, according to eyewitnesses – that Abbas had been driving at high speed and had refused to stop at the checkpoint, and that this made the security personnel suspicious that the two youths were engaged in a crime or transporting illicit goods.
Such incidents are, unfortunately, not uncommon for Ahwazis, with regime military and security personnel routinely targeting them simply for being Arabs and often merely for “amusement”; with the regime more likely to promote security officers engaging in such indiscriminate brutality and extrajudicial killings than to penalise them, there is no motive for the regime’s thugs to moderate their behaviour.
Members of Abbas’ and his cousin’s grieving family, who went from enjoying the celebrations on the first day of Eid al-Adha to mourning the murder of a beloved young son and brother in a few short hours, told Ahwazi rights groups that although they have appointed an attorney to take legal action against the security personnel responsible for Abbas’ death in an effort to bring them to justice, they are not hopeful that anything positive will occur since the legal system is designed to defend the regime apparatus rather than the people.
Aaron Eitan Meyer, an attorney, researcher and analyst based in the USA agreed with the Ahwazi human rights groups, and pointedly noted that the United Nations established a Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and resolved to renew the rapporteur’s mandate in 2017 for three years, in which the council reiterated:
“the obligation of all States to conduct exhaustive and impartial investigations into all suspected cases of extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, to identify and to bring to justice those responsible, while ensuring the right of every person to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law … to bring an end to impunity and to prevent the recurrence of such executions” A/HRC/RES/35/15 (11 July 2017).
Meyer caustically observed that the Iranian regime seems to have inverted these principles, much as it has engaged in a systemic course of illegal and immoral action against its minorities and female citizens alike. He further noted that while Article 62 of the 1991 Islamic Penal Code of the Islamic Republic of Iran states that resistance to security and police forces may be permissible if such forces exceed the scope of their duties and there is a reasonable fear of death, in practice, these forces act with utter impunity and there do not appear to be any substantive limits to their powers.
The IRGC is the most influential body in Iran, permeating every level of government from the Supreme Leader downwards, with powerful allies in the judiciary that allow it to largely control the legal system and effectively give it impunity from any serious punishment or censure for its crimes, forcing most of the individuals or families affected to simply abandon the idea of taking action.
Human rights activists in Ahwaz said that the IRGC uses the checkpoints as tools to extort money from citizens by stopping certain drivers randomly and accusing them baselessly of crimes that are either fabricated or to which they have no connection, forcing them to pay bribes to avoid arrest, adding that those who refuse to pay or ignore these extortion efforts will be pursued and attacked like Abbas and his cousin.
As New York-based human rights attorney Irina Tsukerman explained that Iranian security is rightfully a designated terrorist organisation which uses force to intimidate anyone opposing the state or any perceived threat. IRGC and Basiji are deliberately and unethically fomenting divisions and treating Ahwazis as second class citizens, in order to blame them for the terror against all other Iranian citizens and otherwise create racist perceptions by creating these special checkpoints and then using lethal force against unarmed civilians, as if they are all criminals or members of armed groups.
Tsukerman continued to lament the fact that none of these racist crimes make it to the Western press, or if it does, it is reported as clashes between equally armed powers, not attacks by the state on its own citizens.
In recent years many Ahwazis have fallen victim to indiscriminate shootings by Iranian security forces, with none of the perpetrators held to account for their crimes. For example, Iran’s security forces killed another young Ahwazi man, 19-year-old Mehdi Sawari, on 30 December 2018, as he returned to his family’s home in the impoverished Seyed Karim neighbourhood of the regional capital Ahwaz from the city of Hamidieh. Although he was rushed to a hospital, he died soon afterwards. According to his family, Mehdi was shot at close range and killed by regime military personnel who followed his motorcycle in their vehicles as he returned home.
His grieving parents revealed that he was killed whilst returning home after fleeing his compulsory military service with the regime army at a garrison in Hamidieh. He had told them previously that he had complained about abuse and mistreatment by superior officers after they repeatedly rejected his requests for time off to visit his family and refused to allow him to attend a Quran recitation contest in which he was scheduled to participate, despite his giving them advance notice. The simmering tensions and resentment at this and other mistreatments apparently later came to a head during an argument with senior officers at the garrison, with the young man then phoning his family to tell them about this altercation, as well as telling them that he had been beaten by the officers. His parents said that he was angry and upset at this humiliation and abuse and that he told them he was going to abandon his post and return home by renting a motorbike.
Yet another typical example of extrajudicial killing is that of 20-year-old Sajad Zergani, who was shot dead by Iranian regime security forces at a checkpoint in the Zawiya neighbourhood of Ahwaz city on 16 August 2018. Initial reports suggest that officers opened fire at Sajad and his friend without any warning, with the young man dying shortly afterwards. While there are no details to date verifying these accounts or even confirming whether or not the checkpoint was marked or if the two unarmed young men were given any warning, such random shootings of young Ahwazis by regime officers are routine, according to Ahwazi human rights activists.
In another such killing, regime security forces killed another innocent young Ahwazi man and injured several other people when they opened fire at random at Ahwazi citizens going peaceably about their business in the town of Falahiyeh on 9 February 2017. The dead youth was named as Hassan Alboghobesh, while the injured included Syed Ali Moussawi and Syed Reza Moussawi, aged 31 and 18 years respectively.
Mobile phone camera footage of the last moments of Hassan Alboghobesh’s life after the shooting as he laid on the ground covered in blood quickly spread via social media, with young Ahwazis taking to the streets of the town to voice their anger at the brutal, unprovoked murder, and protesters attacking the local headquarters of the IRGC and regime security force.
On 14 April 2016, the regime security forces also killed a young man identified as Faisal Abidawi, a 27-year-old whose wedding had taken place mere days prior, and wounded two passengers when regime forces ambushed the victim, opening fire on the car he was riding.
On 24 October 2017, a three-year-old girl named Raghad Abbas died instantly when police opened fire on her father’s vehicle whilst she sat in her booster seat in the back of the car while it was passing through the Alawi neighbourhood of Ahwaz City. Raghad’s parents Abbas Hassan Mashal Al-Sari and his wife Zahor Abdul-Sada Al-Sari were also injured in the unprovoked attack. Despite the lack of any criminal conduct, Abbas Al-Sari, injured and in shock at the murder of his infant daughter, was arrested by the same officers who killed her.
While the murders by regime forces listed here are among the better-known cases among Ahwazis, it should be stressed that incidents like this are not unusual and that the impunity extended to the regime’s personnel means that they routinely persecute, extort money from and attack Ahwazis apparently choosing their victims at random. The silence of the international community towards these crimes acts as a further reassurance to the regime that it has carte blanche to perpetrate such crimes, with all the United Nations’ fine and noble words about defending human rights regarded as empty verbiage by most of the Ahwazi people.
Rahim Hamid is an Ahwazi author, freelance journalist and human rights advocate. You can follow him on his twitter account: https://twitter.com/samireza42