The Supreme Court in Iran has reportedly upheld a death sentence against Ahwazi human rights activist Jassem Heidari, currently being held in the infamous Sheyban Prison, who was forced to return to Iran in 2017 after being denied asylum in Austria.
Although Iranian courts finally released the detained Australian-British academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert in a trade for three Iranians held in Thailand over a bomb plot this week, no such happy endings are in sight for Heidari and thousands of Ahwazi and other dissidents and political prisoners who continue to be imprisoned, persecuted, tortured and executed by Iran’s regime. Three other Ahwazi activists, named as Ali Khasraji, Hossein Sillawi, and Nasser Khafaji, also face the death penalty with fellow activists in the region expressing concern they could be secretly executed along with Heidari.
No regional or international rights organisation have condemned the death sentences against Heidari and the other Ahwazi activists which were issued following the regime’s customary torture, forced confessions, and kangaroo trials lasting only a few minutes.
Heidari, who was targeted by the regime for dissent and campaigning for human rights, fled to Austria in 2016, but his application for asylum was rejected, despite the Austrian authorities being aware of the danger to his life in Iran.
On being returned to Iran in December 2017, he was arrested by regime security agents, spending months in a regime detention centre where he was subjected to torture in order to extract a ‘confession’ from him in which he admitted to having links with a dissident group; this is standard procedure with Iran’s regime, which uses these coerced ‘confessions’ at kangaroo trials conducted in secret in its ‘revolutionary courts’ without any legal representation for the accused. These trials, which usually last only a few minutes, are simply a pseudo-legal official pretext to impose long prison sentences and often the death penalty against dissidents, with the verdict being predetermined.
In 2018, Haidari’s mother, Marziyeh Heidari , who was then aged 50, was arrested by regime security forces and held in the regime’s infamous Sepidar Prison in order to put pressure on Heidari to name other dissidents and to force him to confess to the patently false allegations against him, before being released on bail. This too is standard procedure for the regime, with dissidents’ family members, including children, being imprisoned, often for years, for no reason but to force dissidents to surrender to the regime or to sign ‘confessions.’
In March of this year, Heidari and other detainees in Sheyban were brutally assaulted by prison personnel after protesting against overcrowding, medical negligence and unsanitary conditions in the prison following the initial outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. The protests culminated in some of the prisoners setting light to bedding and other materials, with prison personnel using guns and other weapons to kill and wound a number of the protesting inmates, as well as deploying tear gas. At least 15 of the protesters were reportedly killed, either by suffocating due to the fires and tear gas or by gunshot wounds inflicted by the regime guards.
The regime’s crimes are now so routine as to be the norm rather than the exception, with the Iranian leadership’s feeling of impunity encouraged by the silence of the international community. In a similar case, writer and activist Abbas Saedi was arrested at his family’s home in Ahwaz in a raid by intelligence agents in the early hours of Wednesday, 11 November; when his grandmother rushed to protect him, the intelligence agents assaulted the elderly lady, beating her and breaking bones in her hand. She was taken to hospital where she is still receiving treatment and suffering from shock, with doctors reportedly putting her on a ventilator due to the traumatising effects of the attack on her.
Thirty-year-old Saedi, a law graduate, who is his parents’ eldest son and the family’s main breadwinner, has been working at a hospital in Ahwaz as well as writing for local Arab and Farsi-language websites. He’s also an author of widely admired short stories which he publishes on his own Telegram channel named ‘Shakhabeet’. This channel was reportedly cited by the regime as the reason for his arrest, with the Iranian leadership fearful of any expression of creativity, dissent or freedom and mistrustful of any media it does not control.
His arrest means he was dismissed from his hospital job, leaving his already struggling family with no source of income.
As with the death sentences against Heidari and the three other Ahwazi activists, no regional or international human rights bodies have spoken out against Saedi’s clearly illegal detention, or the assault on his grandmother, with Ahwazi activists once again left alone to speak out against the regime’s crimes.
Once again, we appeal to the international community and all human rights bodies to demand the release of Abbas Saedi, Jassem Heidari, Ali Khasraji, Hossein Sillawi, and Nasser Khafaji, along with all other unjustly imprisoned Ahwazi dissidents, human rights activists and prisoners of conscience, whose only ‘crime’ is to dare to speak out against the Iranian regime’s brutal totalitarianism and to demand that they receive fair trials, and that the Ahwazi people finally be granted the freedom, democracy and human rights that are – according to the UN – the birthright of every human being.
By Rahim Hamid
Rahim Hamid is an Ahwazi author, freelance journalist and human rights advocate. He tweets under @Samireza42.