The Spotlighted Injustices Towards Ahwazi Prisoners

Human rights are essential to every human being. Amongst the key and inalienable human rights are: the right to life and freedom, the right to freedom from servitude and torture, the right to freedom from undignified treatment, and the right to social security. Accordingly, International Law or Law of Nations is a set of rules established to defend human rights and to create pacts between countries that must be respected by all the nations of the world.

In the context of civil liberties, it is vital to understand that whilst these are categorised, according to international law as being of equal importance for everyone, in some nations the most fundamental rights as humans are withheld from everyone but the regime elite. The protection of human rights, the most important aspect of development, is simply disregarded.

Iran’s regime is amongst the worst offenders against human rights globally. Its contempt for the idea of human rights can be clearly understood from the words of the theocratic regime’s first ‘Supreme Leader’ Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini when he said: “I hope you will receive God’s transcendent satisfaction with your revolutionary anger and indignation at the enemies of Islam. Those who did not hesitate or whisper to them, who were to blame, sought to be ‘hard on the infidels.’ Hesitation in revolutionary judicial matters is a sign of disrespect for the blood of the pure martyrs” (Text of Khomeini’s Message), Memories of Ayatollah Montazeri, page 1, on ‘The Great Ayatollah Montazeri Website’

The current human rights situation in the so-called Islamic Republic of Iran now is desperate and rapidly worsening. The theocratic regime withholds the most basic rights from the people without any mercy. A recent damning report by Javaid Rehman, a UN Special Rapporteur which was conducted in accordance with the UN, contained an analysis focusing specifically on ethnic minorities in the country.

In compiling the report, the Special Rapporteur reviewed written proposals and information from a wide variety of sources, including non-governmental organisations (NGOs), human rights defenders and various governments and media organisations, in accord with the code of conduct for special procedures regarding mandate holders of the Human Rights Council. Human rights abuses affect many of the country’s ethnic minority groups include the arbitrary deprivation of judgement and expression, life and extrajudicial executions; an inconsistent number of executions on national security-related charges; an uneven number of political prisoners; arbitrary arrests and imprisonment in connection with a range of compliant activities such as advocacy for linguistic autonomy, organising or taking part in peaceful protests and being allied with opposition parties; encouragement to detestation and viciousness; many  discriminatory practices, and denial of employment, as well as limitations on access to education and other basic services. This could be called slavery to a governmental system with total denial of even the most basic human rights.  One of the minorities hardest hit by the Iranian regime’s denial of fundamental human rights is Ahwazi Arab people.

Another important issue that must be taken into consideration is that of the rights of detainees in the Iranian regime’s infamous prison network, whose already desperate plight has worsened severely in the past couple of years.

Although Iran is the 19th most populous nation in the world, it ranks sixth globally in terms of the number of detainees in its prisons, according to statistics issued in 2012, with a total of approximately 250,000 prisoners, after the United States, China, Russia, Brazil, and India. Gholam Hassani Ismaili, head of the Iranian Prisons Organisation, claimed in a recent interview with the Iranian regime-run Mehr News Agency that 43 per cent of prisoners include detainees charged with drug-related offences, while 28 per cent are thieves. Most in Iran are deeply sceptical of the regime’s claims, knowing all too well that false charges are routinely used to justify the imprisonment and torture, and often the execution, of dissidents.

 In the Orwellian prisons run by the regime’s security forces, every conceivable method of physical torture is used, in tandem with psychological torture and relentless brainwashing, placing unimaginable pressure on detainees, with political prisoners being the worst-treated. One of the forms of psychological torture used against political prisoners and dissidents of other religious sects from the regime’s hardline Twelver Shiism, primarily Sunnis,  is known as ‘white torture’, with each detainee being wholly isolated in absolute darkness in filthy dungeon-like solitary cells for periods of months or years and subjected to complete sensory deprivation.  Contrary to the claims of regime officials that such abuses are arbitrary, this form of detention for political or ideological detainees often requires direct permission from the regime’s ‘Revolutionary Courts’, showing that this is very much regime policy.

In this context, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, Ahmad Shahid, has sharply criticised the rise in executions during the years since the election of President Hassan Rouhani. Other human rights organisations reported more than 1,100 people being executed by the regime in 2016. Ahmad Shahid also said that 86% of female prisoners and 36% of male detainees are raped in Iran’s prisons. The former UN Secretary-General has also expressed “grave concern” about the deteriorating human rights situation in Iran, particularly regarding the issue of continued and increasing executions, flogging, arbitrary arrests, unfair courts, torture and starvation in Iranian prisons.

The Iranian resistance, represented by the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran (PMOI),  has quoted credible sources as stating that prisons in Iran are currently witnessing a massive escalation in rates of arrests and detention, with an average of around 50 new inmates per hour being jailed in the country,  meaning approximately 1200 new detainees daily, and about 438,000 people annually.

The latest UN human rights report, reveals that one in every 200 Iranian individuals is imprisoned every year.

The number of prisoners in Iran’s infamously brutal detention centres ranged from 220,000 to 240,000 by the end of 2019, with annual data confirming that around 430,000 people are now being held in the country’s 253 prisons – which have a capacity for 140,000 or almost a quarter of that number.

The percentage of the population imprisoned in Iran has risen by a shocking 333 per cent in the four decades since the Khomeinists seize power, indicating  ever-increasing tensions between the regime and dissidents due to relentless repression and to several crises, most notably the political and economic ones resulting from the regime’s policies, according to the PMOI’s report.

In 2018 alone, Iranian authorities arrested 10,826 people on false and arbitrary charges, while around 13,484 were arrested for political reasons. Security workers, journalists, students and dissidents were amongst those prosecuted for security reasons, usually on ludicrous false charges or vague accusations like ‘disobedience against God’.

As with the regime’s general disregard for human rights, the concept of prisoners’ rights is an abstract in Iran, with members of ethnic or religious minorities such as the Arab Ahwazis subjected to double punishment not only for dissent but for their ‘lower’ status as second-class citizens, for which they are relentlessly abused, degraded and persecuted    

Torture and other abuses are the norms rather than aberrations in the regime’s prisons, with the cruellest and most barbaric personnel being rewarded and promoted rather than punished, encouraging a culture of cruelty.

Floggings, amputations and other inhumane punishments are routine, with no limit to the cruelties to which inmates can be subjected, and deaths, whether from torture, starvation, disease or any combination thereof, being frequent and unremarkable.  

Ahwazis and other ethnic and religious minorities are subjected to these abuses and atrocities as standard, as well as to regular executions, for no other reason but speaking out against injustice, campaigning for human rights or participating in peaceful protests.  All the figures given for detention, torture, and executions are necessarily approximate and are a minimum approximation since the regime forbids any independent external monitoring.

Ironically, actual criminals in the regime’s prisons, including rapists and killers, are treated with less contempt by the regime, which saves its most heinous abuses for dissidents and political prisoners. 

Only the most foolhardy or brave detainees will dare to speak out against these abuses, knowing that dissent or complaint will simply result in greater abuse and that no domestic or international authority will provide any protection to them. Any family members complaining publicly on their behalf are themselves likely to be imprisoned and subjected to the same abuses.

For Ahwazis, one of the most infamous jails for torture and abuse is  Sheyban Prison, where the gross overcrowding, torture, abuse, starvation, and neglect, coupled with  unsanitary conditions and lack of healthcare,  means that contagious disease epidemics are constant and routine, with many prisoners who enter the prison healthy contracting diseases there. Those who fall ill have access to medical treatment or hospitalisation only in very rare cases. Even on those rare occasions when prison staff agree to provide medical treatment, only generic painkillers are provided, no matter what illness the patient is suffering from or how serious or painful the condition; from torture injuries to scabies, gangrene, cancer or multiple contagious diseases, the response is two aspirin.

Executions an everyday event

Executions of political prisoners, often in public, are an everyday event in Ahwaz, as across Iran, with victims including women and those who were children aged under 18 when convicted. In most cases, those sentenced to death, like other prisoners, are denied access to an independent lawyer of their choosing or to a fair trial, usually being convicted on the basis of  ‘Forced Confessions’ obtained under torture.

Hundreds of people are arrested, imprisoned and flogged for such ‘crimes’ as attending mixed-gender parties or socialising with friends of the opposite sex, with women regularly flogged and imprisoned, often for many years, for ‘improper veiling’.

As stated above, ethnic and religious minorities are subjected to the most severe abuses, with Ahwazis, Azerbaijani Turks, Balochis, Kurds, and Turkmen, continuing to face entrenched discrimination, curtailing their access to education, employment, and adequate housing. Systemic economic neglect of regions with large non-Persian ethnic minority populations further exacerbates the poverty and the marginalisation of these populations, while the Persian language remained the sole allowed medium of instruction in primary and secondary education.

Members of these  oppressed nations who speak out against violations of their rights face arbitrary arrest, torture, and other ill-treatment, unfair trials, imprisonment and often execution.

The regime apparently does its utmost to underline its contempt for these long-suffering minority populations In April 2018, around 400 Ahwazis were reportedly arrested in connection with protests that took place after state television broadcast a children’s show that excluded the indigenous Arab population from a map of the region displaying the geographical locations of Iran’s ethnic minorities. In October the same year, following a deadly armed attack on a military parade organized by the regime’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in Ahwaz, during which at least 24 people, including spectators were killed, authorities waged a sweeping crackdown against Ahwazis. Despite the fact that those responsible for the attack were killed at the attack site on the day it took place, over 700  Ahwazi citizens, including rights activists, were arrested and detained, with exiled Ahwazi activists reporting that 22 of those imprisoned had been executed in secret.

Despite all the evidence of unfair trials and executions in Iran, the regime has not just continued to impose death sentences and carry out executions but actively escalated the rate of these atrocities, with executions regularly carried out in public.  Whilst there has been a decline in the number of supposedly drug-related executions following amendments to the anti-narcotics law, the overall execution rate has risen, with the regime using other pretexts to target dissidents many of whom had previously been executed using false drug-related charges.

A number of individuals who were under 18 at the time of the crime of which they were convicted were executed and many others remained on death row.

The regime’s Islamic Penal Code has continued to legitimise stoning as a method of execution, while the death penalty has been maintained for some consensual same-sex sexual conduct. One of the theocratic regime’s favourite pretexts for execution is the use of vaguely defined offences such as “insulting the Prophet”, “enmity against God” and “spreading corruption on earth”.

In the past couple of years, regime authorities have arrested a number of individuals whom they described as “financially corrupt” and “saboteurs of the economy”, despite the regime itself being the primary source of financial corruption, particularly in spending billions on regional wars and proxy militias, even whilst Iranians suffer worsening poverty. Many of these officials were convicted before newly established special courts dealing with crimes involving financial corruption before being sentenced to draconian penalties, including lengthy prison sentences, flogging, and execution. Defendants in these cases were also denied access to lawyers of their own choosing, with no right to appeal against prison sentences, and were given only 10 days following the issuing of the death sentence against them to appeal it.

As was pointed out earlier, religious as well as ethnic minorities are targeted. In June 2019, Mohammad Salas, from the Gonabadi Dervish minority, was executed after a grossly unfair trial for the murder of three police officers during a protest in February. Whilst the plentiful evidence clearing him of these allegations was not allowed at his ‘trial’, the sole evidence against him, a “confession” he said he made under torture, was permitted.

US economic sanctions seem to be having some effect on the regime. In a report announced on January 24, 2019 by the US Secretary of State, pursuant to E.O. 13553, the White House announced new sanctions on the Iranian regime’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its elite Qods Force, along with some of the regime’s proxy militias such as the Fatemiyoun Division and the Zaynabiyoun Brigade. This report also included the imposition of sanctions on the Ghavamin Bank, as well as Ayandeh Bank, also on November 5, 2018, pursuant to E.O. 13846. The Secretary of State’s statement further revealed that branches of the US State and the Treasury continue to pursue new targets and that the Treasury would designate those persons determined to meet the relevant criteria as information becomes accessible.

The individuals designated to date under E.O. 13553 are:

  • Abdollah Araghi, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Ground Forces Deputy Commander.
  • Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, Prosecutor General of Tehran.
  • Hassan Firouzabadi, senior military advisor to the Supreme Leader, former Chairman of Iran’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.
  • Mohammad Ali Jafari, Commander of the IRGC.
  • Ismail Ahmadi Moghadam, former Commander of the Law Enforcement Forces.
  • Sadeq Mahsouli, former Minister of Welfare and Social Security, former Minister of the Interior and Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces for Law Enforcement.
  • Golam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, Judiciary Spokesman, former Prosecutor-General of Iran, former Minister of Intelligence.
  • Saeed Mortazavi, former head of Iranian Anti-Smuggling Task Force, former Prosecutor-General of Tehran.
  • Heydar Moslehi, former Minister of Intelligence.
  • Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, former Minister of the Interior and Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces for Law Enforcement.
  • Mohammad Reza Naqdi, former Commander of the Basij Guard Corps (IRGC).
  • Ahmad-Reza Radan, former Deputy Chief of Iran’s Law Enforcement Forces, Senior Iranian Law Enforcement Official.
  • Hossein Taeb, Deputy Commander of the IRGC, Commander of the IRGC Intelligence Organisation, former Commander of the Basij Forces.
  • Asghar Mir-Hejazi, Intelligence advisor to the Supreme Leader.
  • Sohrab Soleimani, Supervisor of the Office of the Deputy for Security and Law Enforcement of the State Prisons Organisation, former Director-General of the Tehran Prisons Organisation.
  • Sadegh Amoli Larijani, Head of Iran’s Judiciary.
  • Gholamreza Ziaei, Director of Rajaee Shahr Prison.
  • Abdelhamid Mohtasham, founding member of Ansar-e Hizballah.
  • Hossein Allahkaram, cofounder and leader of Ansar-e Hizballah.  
  • Hamid Ostad, founder of Mashhad branch of Ansar-e Hizballah. 

The entities designated to date under E.O. 13553 are:

  • The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
  • The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force.
  • The Basij Resistance Force.
  • Law Enforcement Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
  • The Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security.
  • Abyssec.
  • Tehran Prisons Organisation;
  • Rajaee Shahr Prison.
  • Ansar-e Hizballah.
  • Evin Prison.
  • The Fatemiyoun Division.
  • The Zaynabiyoun Brigade.
  • Ghavamin Bank.

The individuals that were designated under Section 2 or Section 3 of E.O. 13628 are:

  • Ali Fazli, Deputy Commander of the Basij.
  • Rasool Jalili, the Sharif University of Technology, member of the Supreme Council of Cyberspace.
  • Ismail Ahmadi Moghadam, former Commander of the Law Enforcement Forces.
  • Reza Taghipour, former Minister of Communications and Information Technology.
  • Ezzatollah Zarghami, former Director of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, member of the Supreme Council of Cyberspace.
  • Morteza Tamaddon, former Governor-General of Tehran Province.
  • Abolhassan Firouzabadi, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme Council of Cyberspace.
  • Abdolsamad Khoramabadi, Secretary of the Committee to Determine Instances of Criminal Content.
  • Abdulali Ali-Asgari, Director-General of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting.

The entities that were designated under Section 2 or Section 3 of E.O. 13628 are:

  • Amn Afzar Gostar-e Sharif.
  • Centre to Investigate Organised Crime.
  • Iranian Communications Regulatory Authority.
  • Iran Electronics Industries.
  • Iranian Cyber Police.
  •       The Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting.
  • Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.
  • PeykAsa.
  • Press Supervisory Board.
  • Committee to Determine Instances of Criminal Content.
  • Ofogh Saberin Engineering Development Company.
  • Douran Software Technologies.
  • Supreme Council of Cyberspace.
  • The National Cyberspace Center.

The entities designated to date under Section 7 of E.O. 13846 are:

  • Ayandeh Bank

Whilst all supporters of freedom and democracy are heartened by the US administration’s economic pressure on Iran’s regime, it is essential that the world’s human rights bodies and relevant authorities express support for the country’s people and show the regime that they will not appease its tyranny.  Highlighting abuses and uniting to be a voice of justice and fairness in respecting the rights of everyone is essential not only for the oppressed nations such as Ahwazis, Kurds, Turks, Balochis, Persians and others in Iran  but for all people struggling for justice, freedom, and democracy. The last but not the least is that the selective support must be stopped and human rights activists must be the voice for the victims of torture in Ahwaz.


Teuta Orgocka: Human rights advocate based in Canada.

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