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A teenage boy murdered, his body held hostage: will the world now act against Iran?

As tragically reported last week, Iranian regime forces have continued to escalate their random killings of Ahwazi civilians, shooting an unarmed 17-year-old schoolboy dead on Wednesday (4 August 2019) while he was delivering dinner to his uncle.

The boy, Ali Rashedi, was shot at close range by regime troops who were stationed at a checkpoint in his hometown of Khalafiyeh after riding past, despite the fact that he had done nothing to justify  any violence, much less the use of lethal force, and had not been ordered to stop or given any warning.

Eyewitnesses, who requested anonymity due to regime reprisals, told  the Dur Untash Studies Centre (DUSC) that after the boy passed the checkpoint on his motorcycle, the regime troops leapt into their vehicle and began pursuing and shooting at him;  the eyewitnesses said that the boy, who was clearly panicking at being under fire, then accelerated to try to flee the gunmen, with the troops speeding up to catch him and shooting him three times – once in his neck and twice in his back. The boy was killed instantly, with his body tumbling off his motorcycle into the road. When locals gathered around his body, the regime forces and Basiji militiamen accompanying them and revealed that he had been killed by mistake after being confused with a wanted individual. The regime troops apparently attempted to justify the killing by saying that Ali was wearing a red keffiyeh scarf which they believed might be a disguise, so they shot him – although he had not been given any warning despite supposedly being confused with a wanted felon.

Various eyewitnesses have positively identified the officer responsible for firing the fatal shots as a notorious member of the regime security forces whose surname is Ezadpanah.

American relatives of Ali’s revealed that Ali, who was in the 11th grade of high school, was not the first member of the family to be murdered by the regime;  his maternal uncle Hadi Rashedi, a teacher, was imprisoned and executed in 2013, along with poet Hashem Shabani for the ‘crime’ of co-founding an Ahwazi scientific and cultural  NGO dedicated to promoting science, Arab language and culture, and women’s rights.

Ali’s uncle, Habib Rashedi, the brother of Hadi and of Ali’s mother, who now lives in exile in the USA after surviving the regime’s prisons, said that shortly after his sister and her husband were notified of their son’s death by the regime, they were explicitly warned by officials not to talk to any media or international organisations about his killing, and threatened with violent reprisals for doing so.  He added that the grief-stricken parents were also warned that if they talked with any external organisations, the regime would not release their son’s body to them for burial.

Habib Rashedi did not cower before the regime’s threats, but promptly called on international media and human rights organisations to act immediately to raise awareness of the regime’s crimes and to investigate the multiple killings of young Ahwazis in the last few weeks. At least six unarmed Ahwazi youths in their teens and early 20s have been shot dead by regime forces within the past month. As usual, no action has been taken by the regime to investigate or even acknowledge these extrajudicial killings or to find and punish the perpetrators, with a widespread feeling amongst Ahwazis that the international community’s silence is strong evidence of tacit approval for the regime’s murderous persecution of Ahwazis and other ethnic groups in the country.

Habib added that after the regime forces killed Ali instead of handing over his body to his grieved family a regime official called his family who told them, “We warned you that no one from your family members should talk about Ali’s death to any media nor other organisations, and since you didn’t cooperate with us and one of your relatives in the USA appeared in an anti-regime TV channel called Ahwazna talking about Ali, we’ve decided not to have over Ali body to you.”

The official reportedly added insult to injury by telling Ali’s devastated parents that their son  would be buried in an unnamed grave whose location they would not be informed of, further threatening that if they hold any of the traditional mourning ceremonies for him with friends, family and local people paying their respects, both parents and the boy’s grandfather would be arrested and imprisoned. When his family defied this cruel order and held the traditional mourning rituals for their son, the regime authorities dispatched dozens of vehicles and hundreds of troops to the area, imposing a strict curfew and erecting dozens more checkpoint run by Basijis, blocking off the streets around his family’s home to prevent the local people from paying their respects or protesting at his murder.

 

The prominent American lawyer and human rights activist Irina Tsukerman was asked to comment, and stated that “The Basiji militia which murdered the young Ahwazi man for the crime of being an Arab under a virulently ethnocentrist regime has been sanctioned by the US. But what practical effect it has on its members and activities? In reality, the Basijis, which likely have no assets in the US financial system, nor travel to the US, are in no danger of having their money frozen or being deported. This designation has been symbolic and largely meaningless. There has been no decisive action taken for the enabling of a terrorist-sponsoring regime.

“As long as the US and other Western states continue to stay silent about individual murders committed by these thugs, as long as HRW and Amnesty International continue to ignore crimes committed against Ahwazi Arabs and other non-Persian populations of Iran, the Basijis have a free hand in contributing to this state of oppression.  But why do these human rights organisations fail in doing their job?

“Is it because they have grown too big to care and no longer need to expose real crimes in order to keep their reputation?  Is it because they are morally cowardly and do not wish to clash with Iran over issues involving populations that could cause the collapse of the regime, as non-Persian nations are the majority in Iran? Or is it because their ranks are filled with bigots, soft regime supporters and fellow travellers, and sympathisers who will only pursue well-trodden paths unlikely to arouse any controversy?

“Whatever the case may be, one thing is clear: by staying silent on the deliberate and illegal extrajudicial murders, they have long since lost their credibility. One cannot claim to be a human rights defender and stay silent on the grossly unjust and unequal treatment of Ahwazis, in whose case the law appears not to exist.

How is it that the law these organisations appear to at least pretend to care about with respect to women or gays or others does not, in their coverage, apply to Ahwaz?  Why do they ignore huge portions of the population as if they don’t exist, and do not suffer from discriminatory and unique forms of oppression?”

A couple of weeks prior to Ali’s death, another five young Ahwazis were shot dead, as DUSC has previously reported. The last such case was 24-year-old Rasoul Afrawi who was fatally shot by regime security personnel as he rode his motorcycle past a checkpoint, again with no warning or orders to stop before being shot at close range, once in the back and three times in his legs. The unarmed man had been on his way to a local shop to buy bread.  Although he was eventually taken to hospital, he never recovered consciousness, lapsing into a coma as the result of severe internal bleeding and spinal cord damage and dying two days later.

Although the number of such extrajudicial killings and other crimes against Ahwazis continues to rise – amply documented by considerable evidence in the form of photos, videos and witness testimonies proving the regime’s responsibility for these crimes beyond any doubt, including its use of threats to silence the families of those it has murdered  –  the United Nations and other international bodies and human rights organisations have remained silent and failed to take any action to penalise the regime or publicise its crimes.  While the UN appointed a special observer since 1992 to examine the indiscriminate killings perpetrated by regime personnel, there has been no substantial movement in the subsequent 27 years to take any concrete action to punish the perpetrators, with the official’s role seemingly being largely ceremonial.  Professor of Law and Human Rights, Dr Gill Gillespie, comments that “The silence of the international community on the atrocities continually being committed against the Ahwazi people is distressing and astonishing.

This persecution in its totality is almost genocidal in its scope, yet these crimes against men, women and children have not been condemned, nor action taken in any form, by the UN.  The UN is not doing its job, and Ahwazi Arabs continue to suffer.  It is outrageous that Iran is continuing its human rights abuses of Ahwazis with impunity.

On 15 March 2019, 42 human rights organisations, in a statement published in New York, called on the UN Human Rights Council to extend the mandate of Javid Rahman, the special rapporteur to Iran.  They should be urged to act immediately, condemning, documenting and demanding the cessation of the regime’s crimes against Ahwazis.”

The failure of the UN Human Rights Council to fulfil its duties and uphold its own constitution and resolutions has left the Ahwazi people defenceless, facing what is, in effect, systematic state terror with no  protection, giving the Iranian regime carte blanche to ride roughshod over international law and disregard the most fundamental tenets of human rights with absolute impunity .

We are not horse-flies, nor are we strange creatures existing on this planet. We are human beings and people who have our own deep-rooted history, land, values, dignity and humanity. Decades ago, the Persian state brutally occupied our land, and began shedding our blood as if it were mere saltwater. The occupation is still butchering us, yet the world is silent even as we expose the regime’s crimes.  

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

The opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of the Dur Untash Studies Centre.

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