Iranian regime forces have arrested three prominent young Ahwazi female activists in connection with their human rights activism in the past two weeks, detaining two teenage brothers of one of the women arrested during the raid for trying to protect her.
The first arrest happened in the early hours of 26 November, with regime security forces from the infamous so-called Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) storming the family home of Maryam Ameri in the regional capital, Ahwaz City to detain her. As usual, no arrest warrant was served and no reason given for her detention. Ahwazi activists told DUSC that Ameri’s parents and other family members are terrified to speak out since they were told during the raid on their home that she and they would face further danger if they reported her detention to any media; this is no idle threat, with the regime routinely arresting dissidents’ family members either for speaking out or as a means of forcing dissidents into giving themselves up.
On Wednesday of this week (9 December), another activist, 39-year-old Fatema Tamimi, was detained in a raid on her family’s home in the town of Al Jarahi near Ma’shour city in the region; Ma’shour was the scene of a 2019 massacre of Ahwazi protesters which was condemned recently by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; Fatema Tamimi’s family were reportedly told by the IRGC forces detaining her that there would be another massacre in Ma’shour if they made any complaint about her arrest.
In the early hours of today, 10 December – with bitter irony, the ‘UN Human Rights Day’ – a third female activist, Azhar Alboghobeish, was detained in another raid, on her family’s home in Falahiyeh, with her two teenage brothers, Reza and Abbas, also reportedly being arrested when they tried to protect their sister.
The women’s families have received no information about their whereabouts or the charges on which they are being held; this is standard policy for the regime, which routinely holds detainees for months without any contact, and which tortures female, as well as male, activists into making false confessions to ‘crimes’ such as ‘mohareb’ (‘waging war against God’) or blasphemy to justify long prison terms or execution in an effort to crush dissent. Many activists are simply ‘disappeared’, with nobody knowing their whereabouts.
Fatema Tamimi, a mother of two young children, is perhaps the best-known of the three detained women amongst Ahwazis. As a photojournalist and writer, she has produced a number of short documentaries on issues including the horrendous poverty, high unemployment and drug addiction rates amongst Ahwazis resulting from the regime’s policies, cataloguing the regime’s repression and working tirelessly in support of Ahwazi rights. She’s also a gifted musician, cataloguing the history of Ahwazi folk music proscribed by successive Iranian regimes, and composing and performing folk music as a way of keeping this long-repressed traditional Ahwazi art form alive, as well as teaching Ahwazi children about their heritage. All these outlawed activities have made her a target for Iranian security forces and for death threats and slander from regime loyalists, who, with grim irony, depict Ahwazis and other minorities in Iran as troublemaking extremists and separatists.
The latest raids came in response to the young women’s activism, their fundraising and humanitarian work helping people displaced by the recent massive flooding across the region, and their sharing of reports about the worsening crisis there online via Instagram and Telegram. Whilst Ahwazis and all dissidents in Iran are unable to access Twitter or Facebook, whose use is restricted solely to regime officials and some selected loyalist groups, activists have been using other platforms to network and to raise awareness of the persecution and of the worsening conditions in the region.
All three women had also irked the regime by advocating education for Ahwazi children in their native Arabic language, proscribed by the regime, and networking with other human rights activists in the region and beyond to raise awareness of the crisis there and the regime’s persecution.
The regime is intensifying its persecution of Ahwazi activists in Iran and overseas, with an increasing number of social media accounts and communication platforms appearing, run by ultranationalist loyalists and propagandists specifically to slander and vilify Ahwazis as illegitimate ‘immigrants’, subjecting them to constant racist, anti-Arab abuse; a favourite theme is to label Ahwazis as Saudi immigrants, insisting that if they wish to practice their ‘inferior’ Arab culture, they should go back to Saudi Arabia. The regime’s intelligence service is suspected of being directly responsible for many of these accounts, and those on Twitter and Facebook are very certainly regime-affiliated since they could not otherwise access either site from Iran. These accounts accuse Ahwazis, amongst other things, of being troublemaking separatists, lying about Iranian history, and working with or for Saudi Arabia, Israel and the USA to undermine Iran’s regime.
As usual, there is no evidence to substantiate these claims, whose primary objective is apparently to foment distrust and hostility towards Ahwazis who, as Arabs, are already a primary target of the regime’s racism; a number of regime-affiliated Persian ethnonationalist groups use Twitter, Telegram and other social media outlets and communications platforms to denigrate and threaten Ahwazi activists in Iran, as well as those in exile, sending death threats to activists and their families and threatening activists in exile with attacks on their families in an effort to terrorise them into silence.
Despite activists submitting a number of complaints to social media regulators about these deeply distressing and menacing messages, no action has apparently been taken by the social media sites or communications platforms to censure or close these accounts.
By Rahim Hamid
Rahim Hamid is an Ahwazi author, freelance journalist and human rights advocate. He tweets under @Samireza42.