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 Ahwazi Teachers: targeted victims of Iranian oppression

Ahwaz has long been subject to human rights abuses at the hands of the regime in Tehran. However, repression has become widespread since authorities quelled the Ahwazi Intifada in 2005 [1], which witnessed mass peaceful mobilisation against the regime. Since then, Iranian authorities have noticeably increased their attacks on the inalienable rights of Ahwazi citizens under the pretext of upholding national security. As a result, the people of the region have faced a vicious crackdown on their freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly. As part of the campaign, Iran’s Intelligence services have jailed hundreds of people on false charges without sufficient evidence or documentation. Targets have included a host of peaceful political dissidents, such as filmmakers, online media employees, musicians, and human rights and environmental advocates. Such attacks represent a systematic violation of their fundamental human rights. 

Recently, there has been a discernible escalation in the regime’s repressive practices towards Ahwazi communities, targeting their right to freedom of expression, opinion, religion, and belief. Iranian authorities have imprisoned (often via forceful disappearance) and assassinated dozens of Ahwazis who voiced dissent to Iranian policies. For those who receive trials, the proceedings are notoriously unconstitutional – often conducted in secret or at the behest of judges appointed to execute the agenda of policymakers in Tehran. Moreover, Ahwazi dissidents face systemic torture, including flogging, sleep deprivation, and hunger in detention centres and prisons. These practices are utilised both to unlawfully extract self-incriminating testimonies and humiliate and degrade detainees. Iranian television channels like English-language Press TV for several times broadcasted self-incriminating testimonies of Ahwazi detainees even before their trials, undermining the basic rights of defendants to be considered innocent until proven guilty. Ahwazis who criticise the discriminatory policies of the regime, which persecutes on the basis of their race, gender, political opinion, and religious belief, are severely punished through imprisonment and exile to remote prisons in other parts of Iran.  

Arbitrary arrests and detentions are among the most effective tools utilised by the regime in order to intimidate Ahwazis into acquiescence. While the Iranian regime officially denies the existence of a human rights crisis in Ahwaz, it continues to systematically suppress freedom of expression and opinion. Musicians, human rights defenders, trade unionists, and protesters, as well as cultural and religion activists, are routinely subjected to persecution by the Iranian authorities. Rather than finding reasonable evidence for the commission of a crime, judges generally rely on confessions, which have been drawn out from the accused through physical torture and psychological duress. Meanwhile, friends and relatives of the accused are kept in the dark, often not informed of where their loved one has been imprisoned, or even buried after being executed. 

The Iranian penal code contains numerous provisions used to target individuals who attempt to exercise their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association. These provisions include the “criminalisation of insult, blasphemy (Moharebeh), religious insult, spreading propaganda against the state, spreading rumours or falsehoods, raising anxiety and unease in the public’s minds, working against national security, and membership in an illegal organisation, participating in an illegal gathering, and espionage.” Such generalisations are deliberately vague, enabling the regime to manipulate the penal code in order to justify suppressing Ahwazis. [2]

When we analyse the history of repression, violence, and capital punishment perpetrated against the Ahwazis, we understand that they have suffered years of premeditated and systematic abuse. Meanwhile the execution of Ahwazi intellectuals historically has inflicted an irreparable blow on the freedom movement of this oppressed nation which has struggled to gain its fundamental rights for years.

The executions of the early leaders of Arabestan liberation movement in 1963, the repressive policies of Islamic Republic of Iran against Ahwazis in every aspect of their life, the tragic bloody massacre of Muhammarah city in 1979, and the harsh crackdown against the popular uprising in 2005, and Ma’shour massacre in 2019 are vivid proofs that the Ahwazi intellectuals such as teachers, human rights and labour activists who are the base of the political class of this nation, have been systemically targeted for persecution, imprisonment, and execution.

Ahwazi teachers, who play a crucial role in raising awareness of cultural and political rights among young Ahwazis, have long been a primary target of Iranian regime brutality, with countless teachers arrested and imprisoned by the regime on trumped-up or fabricated charges and subjected to savage torture. Many of the teachers detained are executed, with court-ordered exile and banishment outside Ahwaz also being a routine punishment as a means of severing the educators’ ties with the Ahwazi community.

The Iranian regime has consistently been in an open war with freedom of speech, and expression, erecting gallows for those who fought with their pens and thoughts. Prosecutors of this brutal regime have flogged libertarians for using their only weapon against this extremely corrupted regime.

Ahwazi teachers, always in the vanguard of the fight for freedom of speech, battle with the Iranian regime and have been the victims of its barbarism. The charges against these teachers are not that they betray the country or murder innocents, but that they encourage thought and bring awareness to their pupils.

In Iran, given the absence of justice and humanity, it is almost a miracle for a caring and compassionate teacher to teach and write letters of hope and equality on the blackboard for their students.

There are countless Ahwazi teachers, such as Hashem Shabani, Hadi Rashedi, Mohammad Amouri, Rahman Asakereh who sacrifice their lives to pass them behind bars in prison, or are executed for defending the freedom of speech and calling for respect for these fundamental human rights., Fahima Esmaili Badawi, an Ahwazi woman and elementary school teacher who was a member of Al-Wefagh party, was arrested and imprisoned in 2005 and after severing 15 years of imprisonment was freed in 2019. The regime has also executed her husband, Ali Matouri. Mohammad Ali Sawari was an English literature teacher was executed along with his brother Hamza Sawari on 11 September 2007, in Ahwaz City. Some reports claim he was also accused of translating George Orwell’s book, Animal Farm, into Arabic, with the aim of sparking an uprising against the Iranian Islamic Republic regime. Also, Reysan Sawari was a middle school teacher, and a member of the al-Wefaq party was executed in 2007.

Cases of violations 

Freedom of religion and belief is systematically violated in law and in practice. Iranian authorities continue to dictate the norms of public behaviour on all Iranians, irrespective of their religious backgrounds. These norms are rooted in a strict interpretation of Sharia based on the theocracy’s own application of the Shia doctrine of Wilayat al-Fakih, or the Guardian of the Jurist. The right to change or renounce these religious beliefs is prohibited, and religious minorities continue to face persecution. Ahwazi human rights organisations recorded several violations in 2020. For example, many cases were recorded in which both those who declared converting to another sect and those hailing from religious minorities risked arrest, arbitrary detention, torture, and even the death penalty on the basis of their apostasy. Despite President Hassan Rouhani’s recurring promises to end all violations, Ahwazi human rights organisations continue to document the regime’s ongoing arrest of activists.

Sunni Muslims have faced massive persecution since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979. However, there has been a noticeable uptick since Rouhani was elected in 2013. Hundreds of Sunnis have since been arrested. After receiving unfair trials which last around five minutes without lawyers and based on confessions obtained under torture , many are condemned to sentences with prison times that range from one to ten years, while others are subjected to flogging, exile, travel bans, and prohibition on memberships in any number of political, social, or religious groups. 

Majid Al-Abbasi, a Sunni cleric, asserted on his Twitter page that “the Iranian regime aims to liquidate Sunni scholars in order to ensure that the community is void of religious leadership. He states that this facilitates the regime’s policy to “compel Sunnis to change their religious identity, and to move away from religion and religiosity. The Iranian regime also aims to change the demographic composition of the Sunnis in Ahwaz and other regions in Iran.” Al-Abbasi added that the Iranian regime carried out death sentences against numerous Sunni scholars and preachers on charges of Wahhabism and Salafism, saying that “Wahhabism is a term for the Iranian regime that refers to every Sunni, especially those who have graduated from Islamic universities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.” 

Al-Abbasi stated that the Iranian regime killed the Ahwazi citizen from the city of Abadan Amir Hayawi on charges of changing the sect, adding that “the regime killed and imprisoned hundreds of Ahwazis with the same charge in order to deprive citizens of freedom of belief.” Human rights activists in Ahwaz also said that even lawyers and human rights activists were targeted in Ahwaz because of providing legal advice to those who demand freedom of expression and belief, as well as freedom of heritage and culture. It is worth noting that this extends beyond Sunnis. Mandaeans in Ahwaz are also facing the same treatment, often enduring attacks by Iranian security forces on their centres of worship, during which authorities destroy and/or confiscate their properties and other belongings. [3]

Activists are also arrested for “promoting Ahwazi heritage”. In June 2019, Iranian authorities detained Hussein Farajallah Al-Ka’ab, an Ahwazi activist in the field of history and heritage, on charges of promoting Ahwazi heritage in Ahwaz. Al-Ka’ab was subjected to physical and psychological torture for three months in the cells of the Iranian security services. [4] That same month, Ahwazi artist Hassan Nasr, head of the Nasr Foundation, was arrested alongside members of his technical staff for publishing music that called for Ahwazi unity. [5] Amnesty International reported that “the Iranian authorities launched a disgraceful crackdown during the year 2020, and arrested hundreds in a large-scale campaign against demonstrators and activists, including labour activists in Susa (Ahwaz), a year after a wave of protests against poverty, corruption and tyranny erupted across the country.” Amnesty International indicated that a large number of these detainees in 2020 hail from minority non-Persian ethnic groups, including Ahwazis. 

Criminal charges against peaceful protesters and Ahwazi activists who claim freedom of expression, opinion and religion are still common. Unionists protesting to support the rights of labours, as well as Sunni and Mandaean heritage activists, have come under special pressure. They are now serially charged with “spreading propaganda against the state, rallying and colluding against national security, and disturbing public order and peace by participating in illegal marches.” 

Reports of Ahwazi and international organisations indicated that there is a systematic violation against the Ahwazi people, as Ahwazis are deliberately targeted as part of a broader campaign orchestrated by the regime in Tehran. Through arbitrary arrests, death sentences, imprisonment, and confiscation of property, the Islamic Republic furthers a policy of violent dispossession in Ahwaz that is in contravention to international law. 

International regulations to protect opinion, expression 

The right to freedom of opinion and expression is enshrined in a number of international and regional human rights instruments. Universal Declaration of Human Rights- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)- International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)- International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)- Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women- ILO Convention N° 135, Workers’ Representatives Convention- General Comment 10 [19] (Article 19) of the Human Rights Committee (CCPR/C/21/Rev.1 of 19 May 1989)- and

General Comment 11 [19] (Article 20) of the Human Rights Committee (CCPR/C/21/Rev.1 of 19 May 1989). [6] 

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” 

Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) also states: 

  1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.
  2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice. [7]

Conclusion 

The Iranian regime systematically persecutes against the people of Ahwaz. Using a series of unlawful methods, civil society members are coerced into silence. Arbitrary arrests, secret trials, torture of activists, confiscation of their properties, life imprisonment, and even the death penalty are all part of a chain of oppressive practices that Ahwazis are subjected to simply for articulating their demands for freedom of expression and opinion. The cases mentioned in the article point to a pattern of violations committed by the regime against Ahwazis who resist subjugation. As such, international action is required to meaningfully investigate these crimes to ensure that the perpetrators are held accountable. Only when accountability is taken seriously will the regime stop committing crimes against Ahwazis with total impunity. 

By Kamil Alboshoka

Kamil Alboshoka is an Ahwazi researcher and international law specialist. He tweets under https://twitter.com/KAlboshoka?s=09

Editing by Rahim Hamid 

Rahim Hamid is an editor and writer based in the USA.

 

References

[1] UNPO, April 2017. Link <https://unpo.org/article/20036>

[2] Article 19, March 2019. Link <https://bit.ly/2ZVD5vV>

[3] Gulf European centre for Human Rights, December 2018. Link <http://www.gechumanrights.org/persecution-of-the-mandaeans-religious-minority-in-iran/>

[4] Ahwazi Organisation for the Defence of Human Rights, June 2019. Link <http://bit.ly/30wF7QI>

[5] Ahwazna.net, March 2019. Link <https://www.ahwazna.net/4990/>

[6] OHCHR. Link <https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/FreedomOpinion/Pages/Standards.aspx>

[7] UNESCO. Link <https://en.unesco.org/sites/default/files/international_standards_on_freedom_of_expression_eng.pdf>

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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