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Four more Ahwazi citizens arrested in growing Iranian regime crackdown

Iran’s state-run Tasnim News agency affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), has announced the arrest of four more Ahwazi citizens in the city of Ma’shour, apparently over their media activism, claiming that one of the four is “a ringleader of a separatist group who, along with three of his peers had tried to incite public opinion through use of cyberspace and call on people to hold illegal protest gatherings and take armed action.” 

The regime outlet stated that the four had been identified and detained by IRGC forces in the city, which was the scene of a massacre in 2019 when regime forces used tanks and live machine-gun fire to kill or wound hundreds of protesters, arresting hundreds more as a ‘warning’ against dissent.

In its report, Tasnim claimed, “The arrested people tried to disturb the public mind and persuade citizens, especially young people, to gather and revolt by publishing fake news online, as well as provocative videos and clips of film about last year’s rallies.”

The reference to last year’s protests suggests that the Iranian regime, which is infamous for targeting any Ahwazi activists or other dissidents over protests, is apparently reacting to a recent statement by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo drawing attention to the massacre in Ma’shour.

The Tasnim report also attempted to slander the four detainees over their media activism to draw attention to the suffering of the people in Ahwaz following recent massive floods there and associated fundraising to raise money to help provide aid, saying for those affected, “The group tried to attract more people to join these networks by issuing numerous calls in social media to hold gatherings about the recent floods.”

KhakZadegan, a human rights page exposing Iran’s abuses and violations against Ahwazis, tweeted: “Iran’s security agencies are still trying to engineer fabricated charges against Ahwazi civil and rights and media activists. These fabrications are similar to the fictitious accusations against Habib Chaab accused of participating in the attack on IRGC parade in Ahwaz. The regime operatives are trying to lay the groundwork for the arrest, imprisonment and execution of Ahwazi activists inside and in exile.”

The Iranian regime is well known for slandering and targeting any Ahwazi activists or protesters using social media to raise awareness of the regime’s brutal oppression in the Ahwaz region and of its racist policies towards the   Ahwazi population, who suffer horrendous poverty and deprivation, despite the region being the home of over 95 per cent of the oil and gas resources claimed by Iran. As well as being subjected to racist discrimination, the people are denied jobs and fundamental rights, including the right to education in their own language or even the right to wear their traditional Ahwazi garb.

Apart from its oil resources, Ahwaz was also environmentally blessed with lush farmlands, thousands of acres of wetlands and major rivers, with generations of Ahwazis making their living as fishermen and farmers. Unfortunately, since the current regime instituted a massive plan of upstream damming and river diversion, redirecting the waters of the two largest rivers to non-Arab regions of Iran, many of the wetland’s areas have dried up, with the remaining waters massively polluted by industrial plants and oil and gas extraction operations.  This has left Ahwaz battling a looming environmental catastrophe, with climate change also accelerating the desertification, forcing countless rural Ahwazis to flee to the towns and cities.

Any protest by local Ahwazis is dismissed as insurgency and separatism, with Ahwazi activists routinely tortured, disappeared and executed on fabricated charges, invariably using ‘confessions’ extracted under torture.

In 2019, the regime used the same allegations against the Ahwazi protesters in Ma’shour who held demonstrations over the worsening poverty and social marginalisation there, with Tehran slandering the protesters as ‘ISIS’ (with this blatant lie being even more ludicrous since the people of Ma’shour, like most Ahwazis, are Shiite) to justify deploying heavily armed forces, including tank regiments, who massacred dozens of defenceless protesters, gunning some down as they fled to nearby marshlands and killing some of those who attempted to hide there by spraying the marsh vegetation with petrol and burning them alive or shooting them as they attempted to escape the flames.

After committing these crimes against humanity, the regime covered its tracks by dragging the bodies out and setting them alight, with locals in the city saying the terrible smell of burning flesh lingered for days.  

Although Ma’shour is located near a massive petrochemical refinery, with a well-appointed settlement nearby constructed especially for workers brought in from other parts of Iran to work there, the Ahwazi people are denied jobs and fundamental rights; the stark contrast between the landscaped settlements provided for the regime’s Iranian staff, which is equipped with all modern amenities, and the ghettoes of Ma’shour is one of day and night, with the local people driven to breaking point by decades of injustice, poverty and brutal repression.

In a statement to DUSC about these latest arrests, Irina Tsukerman, a New York-based human rights lawyer, wrote: “Iran has consistently generalised even the most peaceful and harmless of Ahwazi activists, poets, women’s rights defenders as armed separatists and terrorists. The purpose of this position has been to delegitimise them in the Western media and in the eyes of the human rights organisations, to deny them public support, and to ensure opposition and polarisation from other opposition movements. As a result, the Iranian society at large views Ahwazis overall with suspicion and hostility whereas most of the outside world, believes that the all Ahwazis are an aggressive separatist group, which, if supported even on basic human rights issues, will undermine regional security and result in potential collapse of Iran as a state.”

“The media in the West, in the rare instances it covers anything related to Ahwaz, reflects the attitudes favourable to the Iranian regime. Either they deny a distinct identity to the Ahwazis altogether describing the events as “Persian” and “Persiansing names of places and events, or they fabricate details and rely on dubious sources as in the recent of coverage of the mysterious circumstances concerning the abduction of the Swedish-Ahwazi activist Habib Chaab from Turkey to Iran.”

The latest arrests follow a series of arrests of female activists in recent weeks, with five prominent female Ahwazi activists – Fatema Tamimi, Zeinab Sawari and her aunt, also called Fatema, Maryam Ameri, and Azhar Alboghobeish – arrested in a series of raids on their homes; in two cases, siblings who came to their rescue were detained with them for doing so, with two of the siblings being teenagers. All the women had apparently drawn the regime’s anger through their long-time human rights activism and feminist advocacy, as well as working tirelessly in education and in fundraising and aid work for those affected by the recent floods.  

Nineteen-year-old Alboghobeish, one of the women to be detained, was arrested in a dawn raid on her parents’ home in Falahiyeh (known as Shadegan in Farsi) 10 December over her social media activism. Her two younger brothers, Abbas and Reza, aged 17 and 18 respectively, were arrested with her for attempting to protect their sister from the regime officers’ brutality.

Last week, 39-year-old Fatema Tamimi, a mother of two young children, was arrested in front of her husband and children in another early-morning raid in the city of Jarahi in Ma’shour (Mahshahr in Farsi), with her fellow activist and colleague Maryam Ameri arrested shortly afterwards in Ahwaz city. Both were transferred to an undisclosed location.

Tamimi and Ameri are popular and well-known figures in Ahwaz, with both being long-time human rights activists. They had launched a project to collect traditional Ahwazi children’s stories, lullabies and folk songs as part of an effort to record the millennia-old Ahwazi oral heritage passed down through countless generations, producing a 20-part documentary for social media on the subject, with Tamimi’s Instagram account gaining more than 25,000 followers as a result of their work.  So far, Tamimi has produced several short documentaries on poverty, addiction, unemployment and the social problems facing the indigenous people of Ahwaz.  

Tamimi had also been filming reports on the recent catastrophic flooding in the region, discussing the causes of the flooding and related issues, as well as the effects and consequences of the floods for the long-suffering people of the region.

In the early hours of Friday, 11 December, regime security forces arrested another young activist, Zeinab Sawari, a social sciences student and teacher, in a raid on her family’s home in Rofaye city; in the evening, same day, they arrested her aunt, Fatema Sawari, a feminist activist, at her home in Howeyzeh.  The two women, both well-respected and popular local activists, had been working tirelessly to help people doubly afflicted by the flooding in the region and the coronavirus crisis, collecting aid and travelling to deprived areas and villages around their home towns to teach pupils without access to online classes.

So far, no information has been released by the Iranian government about the reasons for these widespread arrests, and no charges have been filed against the detainees. Efforts by the detainees’ families to find out any information about their wellbeing or whereabouts have so far been unsuccessful.

Now, once again, as the people of Ma’shour protest at the recent horrendous flooding which has again led to the breakdown of the dilapidated sewage system, with fetid wastewater running through the streets, flooding homes and risking disease outbreaks, the regime is again punishing them for protesting and drawing attention to their suffering.   The latest arrests will no doubt follow the usual process of torture, forced ‘confessions’, often broadcast on state TV, and lengthy prison sentences following kangaroo trials at the infamous ‘revolutionary courts’, which last only a few minutes and are simply a formalising rubber stamp.

Ahwazi rights groups have strongly condemned this new wave of persecution and arrests against Ahwazi cultural activists who have committed no crimes but have participated in peaceful activism in compliance with the Iranian regime’s laws, despite the injustice facing them. The Ahwazi rights groups called on all humanitarians and people of conscience to join them in condemning these brutal and unjust measures as another illegitimate attempt by the Iranian regime to crush peaceful activism through demonising and terrorising activists and unite in calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all the detainees.

Despite this relentless injustice, oppression and suffering, against all the odds, Ahwazis continue to resist and to demand the freedom, dignity and human rights that are the birthright of every human being, according to the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

 

 

 By Rahim Hamid  

Rahim Hamid is an Ahwazi author, freelance journalist and human rights advocate. He tweets under @Samireza42.

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