Several Ahwazis wrongly detained by Iranian regime forces simply for being in the same area as anti-regime protesters in recent demonstrations in November said they were subjected to horrendous torture during their detention, with one so traumatised by the experience that he subsequently committed suicide.
Although the protesters were released after evidence was presented confirming they had not participated in the demonstrations, they have received no apology or redress for their suffering or false incarceration and fear that any official complaint might result in them or family members being subjected to further persecution.
The Ahwazi Human Rights Organisation (AHRO) reports that during the latest protests in November, at least 2,500 Ahwazi citizens in the region were arrested and imprisoned in the prisons of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and its intelligence division, the Ministry of Intelligence and other security institutions. Their fate remains unknown up to the date of publication of this article.
The AHRO reported that one of the people detained, an Ahwazi citizen identified as 45-year-old Qassim Bawi Al Wasmi from the village of Abu Debs, 15 kilometres from the city of Ahwaz, committed suicide by shooting himself a few days after his release. According to his family, he was severely distressed by the arrest and the torture he was subjected to in an Iranian intelligence ministry detention centre. The AHRO stated that Wasmi’s case was a terrible example of the horrific effects of the brutal torture used against Ahwazi protesters and others arrested simply for being in the same area as demonstrations. The human rights group also confirmed that between 70 to 100 Ahwazi demonstrators were shot dead by the security forces and Revolutionary Guards during November’s protests.
Some of the detainees reported that they had been blindfolded throughout the duration of their detention, with all saying that they had been squashed together with many other arbitrarily arrested people in cells so overcrowded that there was no space even to sit down, forcing prisoners to stand squashed together in unventilated filthy cells, which they were only removed from for torture or for collective daily toilet breaks.
Some of the prisoners who spoke with Dur Untash Studies Centre (DUSC) on condition of anonymity told us that they or cellmates had been viciously beaten, either to force them into providing information or to coerce them into signing confessions, usually to fabricated crimes such as being “foreign agents”, with the regime personnel using batons, lengths of pipe or bundles of wire flex to beat them focusing particularly on their backs, hips and the soles of their feet. The released detainees told us that they were allowed only one, grossly inadequate meal per day, although those whose families can afford to pay bribes to prison staff can get extra food.
We spoke with one of those released, a bricklayer with no history of political or social activism and no interest in politics. He told us that he had not known the reason for his arrest, but was told by officials from the regime’s infamous Ministry of Intelligence that he had been detained for “liaising” with a cousin who works outside Iran. He said that following his arrest his family had paid bribes totalling 10 million Rials (approximately $237) to find out his whereabouts. He added that he could barely sleep despite exhaustion due to stress, overcrowding in the cells and the bright overhead lights which are kept on all day and night, only being switched off sporadically for three or four hours at a time. He also noted that prison staff would regularly throw boiling or icy water on the cell floors, supposedly to clean the cells, but in reality, simply to increase the prisoners’ discomfort.
Another former detainee, who was jailed over a year ago, recalled being arrested as he was returning from his work one day. Although he was not charged with any crime, he was regularly subjected to psychological and physical torture, including being beaten on his legs with an iron bar, blindfolded during interrogation and threatened with execution.
Speaking about the international community’s silence over the latest arrests and the Iranian regime’s ongoing brutal oppression of the Ahwazi people, Scottish writer and editor Ruth Riegler said, “Iran’s regime and its allies are no different to or better than Nazis. I’m sick of them exploiting the cause of Palestinian issue to justify brutality and oppression – apparently they don’t get the concept of irony or shame. And I’m sick and of the international community’s complicity in their evil. The world should remember from history that appeasing tyrants and totalitarian regimes never works; Iran’s regime has literally got away with murder, in Iran, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere, for years, and the Ahwazi people have paid the most terrible price. But no evil lasts forever; that regime will fall as the Nazis did. The sooner the better.”
In other news, Branch 101 of the Iranian regime’s so-called Revolutionary Courts in the regional capital, Ahwaz, sentenced 16 Ahwazi political prisoners in the city’s infamous Sheyban Prison to an additional three years apiece for their protests against the terrible conditions and mistreatment in the prison.
The 16 prisoners sentenced have been identified as:
1- Muslim Amri bin Jassem
2- Ghasem Husseinpour bin Mehdi
3- Amin Moawi bin Hanash
4- Adel Sharifi bin Nasser
5- Hassan Taher Mayahi bin Jassem
6- Younes Tayi bin Ahmad
7- Abdul-Razaq Abidawi
8- Mohammad Amin Mohammadi bin Ali
9- Milad Taher Mayahi
10- Bagher Abidawi bin Dayer
11- Ghasem Mohammadpour bin Hormoz
12- Mehdi Khanipour bin Karim
13- Ali Sawari bin Hassan
14- Ali Abidawi bin Taleb
15- Majed Jalizi bin Karim
16- Sayed Mohammad Dawarshanas bin Sayed Rashed
A former Ahwazi political prisoner, Ghazi Haidari, said that these 16 detainees, all serving long sentences for cultural and political activities, had been further punished for criticising the harsh conditions in the prison and calling for improving conditions for prisoners as a way of further intimidating other prisoners into silence.
In related news, the health of a prominent political prisoner in Sheyban Prison, 38-year-old Abbas Cheldawi from the district of Hay Al-Thawra (Alawi), has further deteriorated, with activists fearing that he may not survive. Cheldawi was arrested by personnel from the regime’s Intelligence agency following the death in early November of celebrated Ahwazi poet Hassan Haidari, who is believed to have been deliberately poisoned in regime detention, with the suspicious death of the popular figure leading to widespread protests.
Cheldawi was not involved in the demonstrations over Haidari’s death and was unable to attend the mourning ceremony for the poet, having himself suffered a heart attack necessitating emergency surgery in Tehran shortly before his arrest; despite having just undergone major heart surgery, he was detained simply for his previous record of involvement in political activism and protests. This is the third such time that Cheldawi has been imprisoned on similarly ludicrous charges, having previously served sentences of one year then two-and-a-half years for his involvement in non-violent civil and political activism. The latest arrest, particularly in light of Cheldawi’s poor health, places further immense psychological, financial and emotional pressure on his 70-year-old father who’s now enduring the regime’s imprisonment of two of his sons for political activism, with Abbas Cheldawi’s brother Abdullah detained without trial in Ward 5 of Sheyban Prison for the past 18 months.
Abbas Cheldawi’s brother Ali living in Sydney told DUSC, “Abbas’ health is very poor and my family can’t even get the medicines prescribed for him by the doctor to him.” Ali further explained that though the family had overseen the purchase of the necessary medicine for his brother’s heart condition and been informed by the pharmacist that it had been dispatched to the prison, prison officials claimed it had not reached them. He added: “The party that detained my brother without reason is responsible for his health. Abbas is currently held in Ahwaz Central Prison (Sheyban Prison) and needs to visit a cardiologist and a doctor in the hospital. Regularly.”
It is also reported that more than 50 prisoners in the Sheyban Prison ward 5 have been effected with flu. This is the political ward and regime has not allowed any prisoner to go out for treatment. Ward 5 has more than 150 political prisoners, civil and cultural activists.
Among the most prominent political prisoners whose health are deteriorating:
Mohammad Ali Amoori, Reza Achresh, Jassim Heydari, Seyyed Jaber Alboushoke and Seyyed Mokhtar Alboushoke. Hadi Rashedi and Hashem Shabani were executed and their bodies were never returned to their families.
Ahwazi human rights activists are forced to work in secret, with the regime monitoring all communications and severely punishing anyone found to have contacted human rights organisations overseas; a common tactic used by the regime is to detain suspects and torture them into making ‘confessions’ to working with anti-regime groups and armed groups in exile, with these obviously coerced ‘confessions’ often broadcast on state TV.
Many such confessions have been broadcast in the weeks since the latest nationwide protests in November, during which regime forces shut off internet access in order to carry out a brutal crackdown in which hundreds of protesters, including women and children, were killed. In these grotesque televised ‘confessions’, demonstrators, including young Ahwazis, many of them bearing obvious marks from beatings, “admit” to being backed by exiles and receiving military training to target regime forces.
There have been so many mass arrests by the regime since November in Ahwaz that the region’s already overcrowded prisons, most of whose inmates are political detainees, are full to bursting point, with inmates being transferred to prisons in other regions.
Desperately worried families report that they are receiving calls and smuggled messages from detained relatives pleading for help to secure their release, with many saying that they are being deliberately malnourished.
This caused a worried mother of an Ahwazi prisoner to hold a sit-in in front of Sheyban Prison today, raising a placard demanding the release of her son Rasool Bani Tamim. A video footage shows the desperate woman raising a placard in which it calls on the regime authorities to reveal the fate of her son and immediately release him. Ahwazi activists called on the Iranian regime to reveal the fate of Ahwazi prisoner Rasool Bani Tamim. The Iranian regime forces raided the house of Rasool last week, arresting him and taking him to an unknown destination. The authorities did not level specific charges at him. It is worth noting that the Iranian regime authorities arrest the Ahwazis without revealing their destination or the charges they face for long periods. This throws their relatives into limbo when it comes to following up the measures of investigations and hiring a lawyer to defend them.
According to New York-based human rights lawyer Irina Tsukerman, “the Western countries should hold the Iranian media and government officials accountable for participating in these propaganda campaigns and forced confessions. Although some of the Iranian media and officials related to cyber-security and the Internet shutdown have been sanctioned by the United States, she adds, they are still free to travel to other Western countries as no action has been taken against them. Furthermore, most of the media and regime apparatchiks and businesspeople affiliated with it, continue to operate with impunity and have no real pressure to stop these unconscionable and illegal activities. By refusing to sanction Iranian media and anyone who is in any way involved or facilitates these shameful spectacles, the international community enables the regime’s propaganda machinery and participates in the psychological breakdown and humiliation of the Ahwazi prisoners and their peaceful human rights activities.
Furthermore, the Western media turns a blind eye to the outrageous treatment of these activists, while running politicised campaigns accusing other Gulf states opposed to Iranian actions of surveilling alleged activists, who in reality, live freely abroad and are hard at work distracting the international human rights organisations from the mass abuse and hounding of exiled Ahwazis and their counterparts under the regime’s yoke. Rather than helping disseminate truthful and accurate information about the regime’s intelligence apparatus, which would ultimately help Western countries looking to weaken Iran’s hold in the region, Irina Tsukerman adds, they instead work against their own interests in undermining Iran’s power, by covering up and ignoring Iran’s war on Ahwazi opposition or buy into conveniently propagated regime narratives about separatists and terrorists.
At the very least, the United States and other governments have the power to use the full thrust of the UN Security Council to demand humane treatment for prisoners, and insist on allowing humanitarian organisations to visit ill prisoners and to provide them with life-saving medical treatment. While it is convenient for the regime to have many young Ahwazi men die from easily preventable diseases or to starve to death, this ongoing mass atrocity is a stain on the world’s conscience, and there is no good reason on earth to ignore it and to allow the regime to destroy the most vulnerable with impunity under the pretense of “national sovereignty”. Such well-documented actions are completely illegitimate; Iran has no place among civilised nations or at the international fora so long as the evidence of its destructive and illegal activities, and brutalities continue to accumulate.”
One activist who was released after a brief period of detention told DUSC that the shocking conditions in the prisons are leading to illness and disease epidemics. He recalled one prisoner who he was sharing a cell with who was suffering from relatively straightforward hemorrhoids; the regime’s refusal to allow any medical treatment and the terrible unsanitary conditions meant that the man had suffered from constant rectal bleeding and become skeletal and emaciated, with the atrocious prison diet of a watery inedible lentil soup mixed with camphor, which few could keep down, worsening his condition.
While families who can afford to do so send money to their imprisoned loved ones so they can buy basic food supplies from a regime-owned shop in the prison, which some rely on for survival, many cannot afford this and are left to either subsist on the vile watery soup or to starve.
The former prisoner recalled bitterly that regime guards seem to take great pleasure in taunting the poorest prisoners over their inability to afford to buy food, adding, “Most of the prisoners are married and have children, with their families and children left with no way to make a living or buy food while their fathers are in prison – how can those wives and children be expected to support them with money when they themselves are living hand-to-mouth in hunger and poverty?”
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.