Protests broke out across the region of Ahwaz in southwest Iran on Sunday following the sudden and suspicious death of Hassan Haidari, a renowned Ahwazi poet who died less than 24 hours after falling ill, having only been released from regime custody recently.
Haidari, aged 29, had recently been released after months of imprisonment, being incarcerated for his anti-regime writings and poetry, with his family reportedly paying a massive sum to secure his release. He fell ill late on Saturday night at his family’s home in the eponymously named regional capital, Ahwaz, with a relative explaining that he had complained of feeling sick and suggested that he might have sustained food poisoning, complaining of agonising pain.
Although his family rushed to a local hospital where medical staff attempted to treat him, he suffered a massive seizure soon after his arrival and fell into a coma from which he never awoke, dying a few hours later. Following his death, doctors told his shocked family that he had suffered a stroke and heavy cranial bleeding, as well as revealing that blood tests showed traces of highly toxic substances in his bloodstream that are believed to have induced the stroke.
His family said that in addition to the highly suspicious traces of poison in his system whose source is unknown, there were no reasons for him to have fallen ill, explaining that Hassan, who had recently got married, was a healthy energetic non-smoker in the prime of his life and in excellent health, who did not suffer from any illness or health condition that could explain his shockingly sudden death.
News of Haidari’s death spread quickly on social media, with the poet being a beloved cultural figure among young Ahwazis for his poetry celebrating Ahwazi culture and defying Iran’s regime. Within a short period of time, crowds gathered outside his family’s home to offer their condolences and express their grief at his passing, with many reciting some of his best-known and loved poems.
It has not yet received widespread media attention, but protests are underway in Ahwaz, after an Ahwazi Arab poet died suspicious and the Iranian regime closed off a main road. https://t.co/PtX9P9bVjU
— Aaron Eitan Meyer (@aaronemeyer) November 10, 2019
The popularity amongst Ahwazis of Haidari’s passionate revolutionary epic poetry lamenting the regime’s oppression and injustices against the brutally oppressed Ahwazis and calling for freedom and justice meant that he was seen as a dangerous insurrectionary figure by Iranian regime officials. In hundreds of poems, shared by Ahwazis in the country and worldwide, he cried out against the plight of the Ahwazi people and fiercely condemned the regime’s cruelty and impoverishment of the people and its efforts to erase Ahwazi identity through demographic change and displacement and to ‘Persianise’ the Arab region.
Irina Tsukerman, a New York-based International law attorney said, “Unfortunately, as a human rights lawyer with an experience of working with former prisoners in Iran, both Persian and Ahwazi, I have heard accounts of the regime deliberately using chemical substances, often purchased from EU countries in secret, during interrogations against prisoners who refused to given names or to cooperate or in order to break down activists or other individuals perceived as a threat to the regime’s agenda. In addition to the widespread use of narcotics inside prisons and deliberate spread of addiction among the non-Persian populations inside prisons, the regime uses toxic substances, which may be banned by international law, as a way to extract information, to weaken and subdue prisoners, and sometimes to kill them without ever being directly held responsible. These methods have become increasingly common in recent years. Ironically, Russia, which closely cooperates with the Iranian regime on intelligence matters and has taught Tehran much about methods of torture, has frequently been accused of using various types of poison and radioactive substances against opposition members, critics, dissidents, and former intelligence officers who cooperated with Western security services. Ahwazi cultural figures challenge the authority of the regime and counter the campaign aimed to demoralise the Ahwazi population and make it easier for the regime to eradicate Arab culture and to divide, depopulate, and ethnically cleanse the Ahwazi Arabs who stand in the way of the corrupt regime’s full access to their oil-rich lands. These dangerous developments should concern the international community not only due to the horrific human rights abuses evident in these methods but due to the threat of the proliferation of unknown toxic substances and a potential for their use abroad.”
The Ahwazi Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) reported that “Hassan was arrested by Iranian Intelligence agents in August 2018. The agents beat him severely at the time of his arrest. He was released on 17 September 2018 on 3 billion rials (USD 23,000) bail while awaiting trial.”
In his work, Haidari also lambasted the regime for spreading ignorance, sectarianism, and superstition amongst Ahwazis and for abusing faith as a tool of oppression. In one poem entitled ‘All You Keep Saying is Nothing But a Blatant Lie’, he excoriated the Iranian regime for its exploitation of the story of Imam Hossein, a venerated figure in Shiite theology, pointing out that Hossein was brutally murdered merely for standing in the face of oppression, and asking the regime rhetorically, if you’re genuinely weeping for Hossein, then why don’t you learn from the course of his life and practice justice amongst Ahwazis who are mostly Shiite but who are also oppressed, with their lands occupied and their natural wealth obscenely plundered (by the regime)?
His iconic status amongst Ahwazis and his message of pride in Ahwazi culture had long been a thorn in the side of the regime, which repeatedly targeted him as it does other Ahwazi writers, poets, and cultural figures, most recently detaining him in solitary confinement in the infamous Sheyban Prison for months as a way to silence his voice.
Haidari’s tragic death is only the latest in a number of similar ones in recent years, with several prominent Ahwazi poets, writers, musicians, civil and cultural activists, all young and mostly in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties, being killed by regime forces or dying in mysterious accidents or suspicious circumstances. Another activist, Satar Sayahi, also died in similar circumstances in October 2012 of a fatal and unforeseen stroke shortly after being released from prison on bail.
Until now, the Ahwazis have faced relentless persecution and discrimination, including a disproportionately high number of executions following torture, forced confessions, and assorted other harsh punishments for invented “crimes.” None of these trials are conducted with any basic principles of due process. Moreover, in addition to these horrific human rights abuses, the regime has now unleashed a new spectre on the Ahwazi population – assassinations in the forms of poisonings to shut down the most vocal critics, since the ongoing oppression has failed to break the resistance.
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.