A nine-year-old Ahwazi Arab boy was reportedly beaten with a thick plastic rod and abused by an Iranian Physical Education teacher at his school for playing football with friends without his football kit on. The blows were so severe that they left bruises and marks on the child’s body.
The teacher, identified as Naeem Zadeh, beat the boy, a sixth-grade pupil in his class in the Shaheed Ayat elementary school in the Shekareh district of Kot Abdullah County near the regional capital Ahwaz, so badly that his parents reported he had nightmares and was too scared to go to school for three days. His parents, who shared the photos of their son’s injuries anonymously on social media, voiced frustration and anger, saying that they had photographed their son’s injuries to show what Ahwazi children endure at school, adding that they fear the regime-controlled local authorities would be more likely to punish their son and them for speaking out than to take action against the abusive teacher.
The boy’s parents said that when their son returned home from school on Sunday, 3 November 2019, shocked and crying, it took some time to soothe him and calm him down before he took his shirt off to show them the welts and bruises on his torso and neck. They said he explained to them that during the PE class the teacher had ordered him to sit at the side of the football pitch, since he had forgotten his shorts and gym kit. He did so, but when the teacher was called away for a phone call in the school office, the boy played with his friends on the pitch. When the teacher returned and saw this, the boy said, he flew into a rage and called the child over, verbally abusing him with racist language and using a thick plastic rod to cane him on both palms before beating him on his back, neck and chest with it. The other children could not intervene to save him since they too would have been beaten for doing so by the teacher.
Many other outraged Ahwazi parents have used social media to urge the boy’s parents to take legal action against the school for what they said amounted to torture of a child. Although some other Ahwazi parents have previously lodged complaints about similar and worse instances of abuse of their children by Iranian teachers at schools in the region, the children and parents are more likely to be chastised than the school personnel, with Ahwazis, like other oppressed peoples in Iran, being effectively relegated to the status of second-class citizens due to their non-Persian ethnicity.
Many Ahwazi schoolchildren drop out of school early due to verbal and physical abuse by teachers over their Arab origin, with teachers routinely punishing children for speaking their native Arabic tongue rather than Farsi, the official Iranian language, even though Ahwaz is a predominantly Arab region and was once an autonomous Arab emirate before being annexed by Shah Reza Pahlavi in 1925.
This anti-Arab behaviour towards Ahwazis is standard in every area of life, with Ahwazis also forbidden from wearing their traditional Arab garb in the workplace, being educated in or teaching Arabic. Many activists have been imprisoned and even executed on fabricated charges of ‘enmity to God’ for merely teaching the history of Ahwaz, writing poetry or playing traditional Ahwazi music.
The increasing enmity between Iran’s regime and Arab states in recent years has also intensified the anti-Arab racism in Iranian media towards the Ahwazis, with flagrantly racist and degrading video games like ‘Beat an Arab’ being approved by the communications ministry and gaining popularity.
Speaking about this latest case, Karim Dohimi, an Ahwazi former teacher now based in London said, “What happened on 3 November 2019 in Kut Abdullah in Ahwaz after an Arab student was beaten and tortured indicates that the teacher clearly has psychological disorders and should not have been appointed by the Ministry of Education, or that he is racist and bears venomous sentiments towards the Ahwazis. Such behaviour is, unfortunately, commonplace in the Arab cities since the Iranian regime has deliberately recruited racist teachers in its schools for decades in its efforts to eradicate Ahwazi culture. There is another dangerous factor is that schools in Arab cities have become the hotspot for exiled ethnically Persian teachers who are transferred to Ahwaz from their cities in Iran due to substance addiction, corruption or other issues and because they are exiled they have no motivation to be committed to teaching, and release their anger on the poor Ahwazi students. “
Mostafa Hetteh, an Ahwazi former teacher, now living in Canada, says, “Based on my experience as a teacher in the Ahwazi schools, there are several reasons behind some teachers beating and torturing student. But, undoubtedly, the main reason is that those teachers have impunity, so they pay no heed to any law; they know that the law has no place in the country. Law is the lost link in Ahwaz, and it is not applied in all the government departments. There is a state of chaos. As to schools, the situation is unacceptable. Other incidents happened last year and the year before, with the teacher getting away with it. If the teacher beats students, the education department will do nothing but issue a verbal warning to the teacher. If he’s supposed to be punished, he’ll just be moved to another school. Horrendous incidents of abuse by teachers which led students to commit suicide have gone unpunished. Of course, the crisis of incidents like this and similar ones would come to an end if the teachers would apologise to the student’s parents. But we should be aware of the fact that any student who goes through such an experience lives with this trauma and shock, which cannot be addressed easily. Children in Ahwaz bear the biggest brunt of society’s diseases. They are victims of negligence, poverty, deprivation of the mother tongue, and torture at schools.”
In the worst cases of this nature, as Mostafa Hetteh noted, children can be driven to self-harm or suicide. In one such tragic case, a 12-year-old Ahwazi schoolboy named Elias Sharifi (pictured) from Howeyzeh, a town to the northwest of the Ahwazi capital, committed suicide on 25 December 2017 (a normal weekday in Iran) after being repeatedly abused by a Persian teacher at a school in the nearby town of Khafajiyeh. According to the Ahwazi Centre for Human Rights (ACHR), the teacher had been continuously bullying the boy, who finally reached his breaking point when the teacher punished him for a minor infraction by ordering him to write out lines as a punishment. On returning home, the boy used a scarf belonging to his mother as a noose, hanging himself in the family’s home. Although his mother, who found him, tried frantically to save his life and immediately called an ambulance, he passed away shortly after arriving at the local clinic.
Aaron Eitan Meyer, an attorney and researcher who recently presented an academic paper on the illegal methods employed by Iran to maintain its control over Ahwazi territory, termed this as “flagrantly racist child abuse” and noted that “30 years ago, the UN enacted the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a convention to which Iran is a party, which means that it owes absolute moral and legal protections to all children within its territory,’ irrespective of the child’s or his or her parent’s or legal guardian’s race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.’ And while Iran may have reserved its purported right to not apply provisions that conflict with its interpretation of Shariah law, there is no exemption or reservation that permits Iran to brazenly permit widespread child abuse borne of racism. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has a specific obligation to investigate this and take action against Iran, but that should not stop any nations or transnational organisations from condemning this abhorrent practice and taking concrete steps against it.”
For Ahwazi parents forced to watch their children systematically abused because of their ethnicity and heritage, international human rights conventions offer little hope. Yet the parents of this nine-year-old child have taken a significant step in sharing their son’s mistreatment. Now, perhaps, social media can continue exposing the regime’s crimes against children, and compel the nations and peoples of the world to open their eyes to the plight of these children.
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.