As the regime in Tehran once again steps up its already brutal repression in Ahwaz in the south and southwest Iran, Ahwazi sources have revealed that the regime is seeking to execute three Ahwazi detainees who have been transferred to an unknown location. Earlier this week, the Ahwazi human rights Telegram page, KhakZedegan reported that the activists, Hussain Silawi, Ali Khasraji and Naser Khafaji, who were sentenced to death on the regime’s usual charges of ‘enmity to God’ and threatening national security (by protesting), are still missing. KhakZedegan stated that the regime refuses to provide the men’s families with information, stressing that “there are fears that men will be subjected to torture or secret execution, as happened in the past against a large number of activists in Ahwaz.”
— KhakZadegan (@KhakZadegan) September 24, 2020
The grim news comes as the regime’s infamous Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) launched “patrols” in the north Ahwaz region (known as ‘Khuzestan’ in Farsi) supposedly to ensure security in the oil-rich region, citing what IRGC officials referred to as a rise in reports of “theft and insecurity” in cities such as the regional capital, Ahwaz city. In reality, the “patrols” are the regime’s latest effort to terrorise Ahwazis into abandoning protests against brutal repression and increasingly intolerable living conditions.
In a May 2020 report, Amnesty International noted that “Hussain Silawi, Ali Khasraji and Naser Khafaji have been forcibly disappeared since 31 March 2020, after being transferred from their usual places of detention to undisclosed locations. Their enforced disappearance has taken place amid a clear rise in the number of executions since April 2020, which has heightened concerns about their safety and security.”
On its Twitter account, Amnesty International reported: “Ali Khasraji from Iran’s Ahwazi minority is at risk of execution. He was sentenced to death following a grossly unfair trial which relied on “confessions” obtained under torture. @khamenei_ir Quash his death sentence and grant him a fair retrial now! Amnesty International is concerned that death row prisoners from Iran’s disadvantaged ethnic minorities are particularly at risk, given the authorities’ pattern of executing prisoners from these groups when concerned about the eruption of popular protests. Iran’s increasing use of the death penalty as a weapon for repression is alarming & warrants the immediate attention of the international community. Without urgent diplomatic & public action, more lives in Iran are at risk of being cut short by the state’s execution machine”.
Speaking about the case of the Ahwazi prisoners, former White House speechwriter and Heritage Foundation policy analyst Michael Johns told DUSC: “They should be calling for fully dropped charges, not another trial. They made a similar mistake a few months back calling for an overturning of the death sentences on those three youngsters. They got that but are still in jail for life for nothing except participating in protests.”
Sources close to the detainees told DUC that “Iranian security forces systematically accuse and violate the rights of Ahwazi detainees, with Ahwazi activists being arrested without justification and detained for long periods in unknown locations facing terrible violations. Many detainees have died under torture, and many others make self-incriminating ‘confessions’ under torture which are then used in the courts to issue convictions against them.” The sources affirmed that these three men were held for nearly a year in secret cells without anyone knowing their fate, and that they were subjected to severe and brutal torture and other ill-treatment by security services. all three were sentenced to death following grossly unfair trials, the sources noted, and were denied any access to their families or to lawyers during the period of detention in the cell.
The Revolutionary Court in Ahwaz city issued the death sentence against Silawi, Khasraji and Khafaji on 14 January 2020 after patently unfair kangaroo trials whose results were predecided, on charges of threatening national security, enmity to God and corruption on earth, the charges routinely used against activists and dissidents by Iran’s regime. The lawyers representing these detainees appealed against the decision, but the Supreme Court in Tehran upheld the death sentence. Their families made a number of unsuccessful attempts to have their sentences commuted before the men were transferred from section 5 of Sheyban prison in Ahwaz to an unknown location on 31 March 2020.
Amnesty International in May 2020 reported that “several days after the disappearance, and after repeated inquiries by families, the Ministry of Intelligence Services allowed a relative of Nasser Khafaji to talk with Nasser on the phone for just a minute. Nasser Khafaji was unable to inform his relative of his whereabouts. Since then, the families of the three disappeared men have not heard anything about the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones, as the officials in the prison, the Revolutionary Court, and the Ministry of Intelligence in Ahwaz did not give them any answers about the fate of these three men.” Amnesty International expressed grave concerned that the men might be executed in secret, given the Iranian regime’s well-documented history of secret executions of Ahwazi detainees in previous years.
The cases of Silawi, Khasraji and Khafaji are not unusual, with such brutal persecution being the terrible ‘norm’ for Ahwazi dissidents. Regime forces, who already enjoy impunity in targeting Ahwazis, were recently formally authorised to open fire against any individuals with live ammunition on the grounds of “suspicion”. The move comes as public anger grows, not only over the regime’s relentless anti-Arab persecution but over economic collapse and increasingly intolerable living conditions, exacerbated by worsening environmental conditions and climate change.
Ahwazi rights activists fear that the IRGC and the regime’s feared Basiji plainclothes militias, will use the new legal authorisation, which officially sanctions targeting any individual’s lower body, to ratchet up their existing brutality, knowing that they have absolute impunity and now additional legal cover. Some activists have warned that the new measure will turn Ahwaz into a free-fire zone for the regime’s forces, with men, women and children targeted without any cause.
Rather than attempting to mollify the people, end the culture of corruption and abuse and eradicate the poverty and pollution that are all factors in increasing simmering public discontent amongst the long-suffering Ahwazi people, the regime is instead stepping up its cruelty. Protests have grown in recent months as low-paid workers stage demonstrations over unpaid wages, with many workers owed months of pay and struggling simply to keep a roof over their heads and buy food. Despite their dire conditions, the owners of the state-backed companies employing them, most of which are partly or wholly controlled by the IRGC, one of the richest bodies in the Middle East, have called in the IRGC and Basiji forces to brutally attack the protesting workers and had many arrested simply for demanding the pay they are owed. As well as the workers, those arrested for protesting include union leaders, farmers, unemployed young Ahwazis and human rights activists.
In related news, the chairman of the regime’s local court system, Sadeq Muradi, called for all security issues in the cities and villages of northern Ahwaz to be put in the hands of the infamously brutal IRGC, with regime legal officials increasingly abandoning any pretence of support for justice and openly demanding full-scale murderous repression rather than tacitly backing such brutality.
According to Iranian sources, in the past three years the security services have arrested hundreds of Ahwazi activists, including cultural, heritage, human rights, environment and political activists, on charges related to national security. Former Chief of Police in Ahwaz Haidar Abbaszadeh, announced that the security services have arrested about 1,250 Ahwazi accused of carrying out separatist activities from 2017 to 2020. Since this figure comes from the regime itself, however, the real number is likely to be far higher.
#Iran’s official media disclosed that 1250 Ahwazis have been arrested, called as separatists, during last year. This evidence reflects #iran’s vast violations of #HumanRights in #Ahwaz. @AgnesCallamard @Geneva4Justice @AmnestyIran @amnesty pic.twitter.com/Cz9RpxytKS
— PADMAZ.org (@PADMAZorg) September 23, 2020
Ahwazi human rights organisations indicate that Iranian regime security services arrest any Ahwazi demanding fundamental human rights, including the right to celebrate their own traditional heritage and culture, with detainees facing massively exaggerated charges that lead to their imprisonment and often to the death penalty. These organisations also confirmed that Iran’s regime has committed several massacres and genocide in Ahwaz, including execution, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, torture, displacement, confiscation of belongings, deliberate destruction of the environment, deliberate flooding, land sabotage and air pollution in order to force Ahwazis to migrate. Although all these acts and enforced migration are illegal under international law, the regime knows that it can flout international law and disregard human rights with impunity.
KhakZedegan has also revealed that another Ahwazi detainee is facing danger due to torture perpetrated by the regime security services. The Telegram page indicated that the Iranian security services in Ahwaz are seeking to obtain confessions by force and under torture from Ahwazi prisoner Abbas Askari, who was arrested in December 2019 in Ahwaz city. KhakZedegan reported that Iranian intelligence services accused Askari of spreading propaganda against the regime. However, a relative of Askari suggested that he was actually arrested for taking the body of Reza Nissi, a 16-year-old Ahwazi teenager killed by the IRGC in protests in the city’s Zergan area last November, to a regime security centre, with the regime angry at being shown up. It should be noted that this happened after the regime forces committed a massacre in the city of Ma’shor the same month, killing about 130 Ahwazi.
Detained #Iran protester Abbas Askari, has been tortured to make false confessions.
He was caught on camera while carrying the corpse of a teenager who had been shot & killed by the IRGC Basij forces during the protests in Nov 2019.#FreePoliticalPrisonershttps://t.co/68bgxNMUDx
— IRAN HRM (@IranHrm) September 17, 2020
After Askari left Reza Nissi’s body in in front of the Basiji militias’ 14th Branch in the Zergan area as a mute condemnation of their murder of the child, he went into hiding for fear of further persecution; he was arrested the following month, December 2019, while working on his farmland. Human rights groups in Ahwaz reported that the Iranian intelligence services accused Askari of “spreading propaganda against the regime”, joining the protest and “corruption on earth”, all of which allegations he rejected. Human rights activists in Ahwaz have noted that Iranian regime intelligence services always use these and similar fabricated charges against Ahwazi activists in an effort to discredit them and suppress their voices demanding rights and freedom.
Ghazi Heidari, a former prisoner and a prominent Ahwazi politician now living in exile, told DUC, “The approach of the Iranian security apparatus is to accuse Ahwazi activists in cases related to national security until sentences are issued resulting in the activists’ imprisonment or execution.” Heidari added that the regime meted out the same murderous injustice against prominent Ahwazi figures Hadi Rashedi and Hashem Sha’abani, the founders of the cultural NGO, Al-Hewar Organisation, from the city of Hamidiyah, as well as against many other Ahwazi activists, all of whom were executed without the knowledge of their families and lawyers. Heidari also added that the Iranian regime’s intelligence services, whose torture is infamously brutal, subject activists to torture in ‘black site’ prisons for months and often for years, until the detainees ‘confess’ to the unfounded accusations simply to stop the torture. Many die during this unspeakable brutality.
Ghazi Heidari recalled that several years ago, the regime’s intelligence services arrested six Ahwazi activists on charges of assassinating Sheikh Al-Simari, a feared member of the infamous Iranian intelligence service, in Ahwaz. These six men, who had never met each other and were from different areas, with some working in eastern Iran 1,400 miles from Ahwaz at the time of the crime, were accused of establishing a military cell to kill Al-Simari. Although evidence was presented that none of them had even been in Ahwaz city on the day of his death, the authorities were intent on using them as examples, subjecting them to 21 months of torture and solitary confinement until they signed “confessions” to their “crime”. Thereafter, they were transferred to the city’s general prison; unusually in this case, they were thankfully acquitted and released four years later, but often prisoners similarly falsely charged are executed. None of the six men tortured, imprisoned and falsely accused of Al-Simari’s killing received any compensation for their suffering.
Heidari pointed out that the Revolutionary Courts are linked to the regime’s intelligence services, issuing decisions against detainees in coordination with them, stressing that the Revolutionary Courts’ lawyers and judges are fully aware that confessions are obtained under torture, and adding, “The Revolutionary Courts violate the right of detainees to defend themselves in courts adequately.”
Heidari further noted, “Most members of the intelligence services nurture hatred and racism against Arabs, so they try to create issues for activists to facilitate their execution or sentence them to imprisonment.”
Heidari also criticised the Farsi-language media abroad, saying, “Iranian media abroad published several news about the case of the Iranian sports prisoner, Navid Afkari, who was executed by the security services, but no news was published about the Ahwazi boxer Hussein Khasraji, who was sentenced to death similarly falsely on a security charge.”
It is worth noting that international human rights organisations rarely condemn Iran’s ill-treatment against Ahwazi activists, although some international human rights organisations have criticised the Iranian officials ’refusal to provide the families of victims with any information about the fate and whereabouts of detainees.” The Ahwazi human rights organisations indicated that this failure to provide information about the status of detainees is cruel, inhuman and amounts to enforced disappearance, and is a crime under international law.
By Kamil Alboshoka & Rahim Hamid
Kamil Alboshoka is an Ahwazi researcher and international law specialist. He tweets under @KAlboshoka
Rahim Hamid is an Ahwazi author, freelance journalist and human rights advocate. He tweets under @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.