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Urgent action needed as Iran plans mass execution of Ahwazi political prisoners

Activists in Ahwaz are reporting that the Iranian regime plans to carry out the mass execution of 32 political and civil rights activists on 22 September in a grotesque retaliation for an attack carried out on that date a year ago on an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) military parade, a parade that was viewed by the Ahwazi people as a symbol of the theocratic rulers’ racist oppression, state terror and injustice. 

Although the four Ahwazi men who carried out the attack on the IRGC parade in 2018, in which dozens of regime troops died, were killed at the scene, hundreds of people, including women and children, were subsequently arrested, tortured and imprisoned in subsequent raids across the Ahwaz region, in a widespread mass reprisal. Now, the regime is determined to mark the anniversary by further terrorising the Ahwazi people, which has been subjected to brutal repression for many years.

In its customary fashion, the regime has failed to present any evidence against those arrested that would connect them to the 2018 attack on the IRGC parade, but is transparently using it as an excuse to detain political dissidents and human rights activists.

According to local activists in Ahwaz, none of the detainees who are set to be executed on the anniversary of the attack have any connection to the paramilitary group that carried out the attack, with some having already been in prison when the attack took place. These arrests, along with the mass imprisonment and executions, are intended to send a message to the Ahwazi people that any opposition to the regime in Tehran, whether in the form of peaceful protests or even speaking or writing unfavourably about the leadership, will not be tolerated. 

 Although many of those detained, including women, children and elderly people, were simply targeted due to being present during the regime’s arrest campaigns, the majority of those detained long-term are political dissidents and civil rights activists, who were targeted for their calls for equal rights, freedom of expression, association or peaceful assembly, or in many cases simply because of their Arab identity. All the detainees facing execution, who are being held in different prisons in Tehran, Hamedan and the regional capital Ahwaz, were reportedly held for months in solitary confinement, denied any contact with their families, or legal representation, and subjected to brutal torture to force them into signing false confessions.

Following their detention, many of the Ahwazi prisoners, again including women, children and elderly people, were transferred to some of the regime’s infamous ‘black prisons, unofficial extra-legal detention centres best known as torture facilities.

The detainees’ families said the regime’s notorious intelligence service seized their spouses and children without presenting any arrest warrant or other documentation or giving any cause for their arrest. Since the arrests, the detainees’ families, who have not been provided with any information about where their loved ones are being held, have been denied any contact with them, relying on reports from released detainees to know whether their relatives are alive or dead.

Some of the Ahwazi people charged in connection with the 2018 attack on the IRGC military parade in Ahwaz have been identified as:   

  1. Sahbaa [Lamiaa] Hamadi, a married mother of two children.
  2. Mortaza Mousavi, an English Literature student at Ahwaz University’s Faculty of Literature who was detained three months before the military parade attacks.
  3. Kholoud Sabhani [woman].
  4. Zaynab Afrawi [woman].
  5. Abdullah Shamsi.
  6. Aydan Shamsi.
  7. Abdel-Nabi Shamsi.
  8. Sadiq Saeedi.
  9. Anwer Neisi.
  10. Ali Haideri.
  11. Ahmed Hamri.
  12. Abdullah Marmadi, detained three months before the attack.
  13. Reza Ajili [Marmadi].
  14. Ali Motiri Zargani. 
  15. Moslem Amouri Nejat.
  16. Abbas Badawi.
  17. Ahmad Kouroshat.
  18. Abdul Hakim Kouroshat.

Unlike in the past, however, the regime’s plans are being followed very carefully. In a lengthy interview, prominent American lawyer and human rights activist Irina Tsukerman told DUSC that, “clearly Iran blatantly acts in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human rights in subjecting its citizens to torture and depriving them of right to due process and legal assistance.

It is doing so, knowing that no international body will move to impose sanctions or enforce any of the relevant legal provisions in any way.

Despite numerous reports by various human rights organisations about the use of torture and other coercive treatment in Iranian prisons, no real action has been taken to hold the Iranian judiciary, law enforcement, and corrections responsible for the show trials, the various methods of humiliation and intimidation, and the general mockery of its own legal system and international agreements to that effect.

What’s worse now is that Ahwazi Arabs are being singled out and blamed for the attack as a convenient political ploy for Iran to wash its hands off its security issues and at the same time, to intimidate the Ahwazi human rights movement by mistreating and abusing leading activists under the clearly fabricated pretence of belonging to armed struggle movements.

In reality, this process is nothing more than a power play to further crush the Ahwazis and to humiliate them, as well as to place blame for the ongoing internal problems on the mythical separatists.

The only separatism problem in Iran is one that Tehran created itself by dividing various segments of the population and turning them on against each other, by playing on ethnocentrism and depriving non-Persians of fundamental human rights to practise their unique cultures peacefully.

That way, whenever someone dares to call for a return to basic human decency, Iran can conjure up the boogeymen of separatism and territorial integrity and like any other totalitarian dictatorship, find, create, or fabricate enemies as scapegoats.

The International Community should stop playing along with this farce, and finally start holding Iran responsible for the horrific abuse of innocent human beings whose biggest crime was being involved in peaceful human rights activities.

Human rights defenders are a protected category; yet, somehow when it comes to Iran, and particularly to non-Persians, such as Ahwazi Arabs, suddenly all the human rights organisations fall silent and have nothing to say.

It seems like only a few privileged voices are worthy of massive campaigns in the media and campaigns.

Those who challenge the convenient and comfortable narrative are doomed to being ignored and left in the hands of the Iranian government, which acts with such brazen impunity because the self-proclaimed Western liberals choose their own “worthy victims” and the rest to them, do not exist.”

A report from Amnesty International on 2 November 2018 independently confirmed that the Iranian regime had arrested hundreds of Ahwazi activists “as an excuse to lash out against members of the Ahwazi Arab ethnic minority, including civil society and political activists, in order to crush dissent” in the Ahwaz region. According to Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, the scale of persecution and discrimination against Ahwazis suggests that “these arrests are being carried out arbitrarily and are politically motivated.”

It is clear that, as with the regime’s relentless persecution of dissent, by Ahwazis, other ethnic minorities in Iran and any dissidents speaking out for freedom, these detentions and executions of Ahwazi activists and political dissidents are a grotesque insult to every concept of international law and human rights, and that the only connection between these crimes by the regime and the 2018 attack on the IRGC parade is that it is being exploited as an excuse for these acts of state terror.

  It is also clear that the Iranian regime takes the silence of the United Nations and international community on its crimes against humanity perpetrated against Ahwazis and all other dissidents as carte blanche. There is a strong case to be made that these international human rights organisations and UN bodies which have the power to speak out and to act to stop such crimes but fail to do so are effectively accomplices by inaction, as with any other passive witness to a murder.  

New York-based attorney Aaron Eitan Meyer commented that, “this is a perfect example of why it is difficult for an attorney to realistically speak of public international law as ‘law’ in the ordinary sense of the term. The regime remains free to operate with impunity because it is not actually answerable to what was once optimistically thought of as ‘the tribunal of nations’. Rather, the only way real change can come will be through the exercise of power. That means political and economic power leveraged by the nations of the world who possess it, aimed squarely at the regime’s depredations and its unholy masquerade of pseudo-judicial process. The legal justification for action is well established, but it is entirely meaningless when not supported by power.”

As this is being written, there are fewer than three weeks remaining before the regime carries out its immoral murder of political prisoners, as it has done before. The whole Ahwazi nation has been effectively imprisoned and sentenced to death, whether slowly as a people through displacement and ecological warfare, or one by one as its activists and ordinary people are executed without any form of due process. Far too many Ahwazis, young and old, man and woman, have already been slaughtered by this abhorrent regime. The world cannot bury its head in the sand any longer, but must take concrete action right away. These 32 innocent victims have less than three weeks before all that will be left are tears and death.

Rahim Hamid is an Ahwazi author, freelance journalist and human rights advocate. You can follow him on his twitter account: https://twitter.com/samireza42

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