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Tragic imprisoned Ahwazi victim of COVID-19, Iranian regime negligence named as Makia Nissi

It’s been confirmed that one Ahwazi female activist was executed in the Iranian regime’s infamous Sepidar Prison in the past month, while another Ahwazi woman, named as Makia Nissi, died there during the same period, with activists stating that her cause of death was likely the COVID-19. Nissi had been arrested in connection with her husband’s activism, as a way to force him to give himself up for arrest. Two weeks before Nissi’s death, according to the London-based Ahwazi news group Khakzadegan, another Ahwazi woman had been executed in the prison. The woman, who has so far not been identified, had reportedly been working as a traditional healer offering herbal remedies in exchange for payment. When one of the people who she had been treating subsequently died, she was charged with premeditated murder despite the lack of any evidence of this or any motive, activists reported.

The latest deaths come in the wake of the regime’s arrest of five female Ahwazi activists in recent weeks in connection with their human rights advocacy and work in documenting Ahwazis’ cultural heritage.  Two teenage brothers of one of the detained activists (who is herself only aged 20) were arrested along with her when they tried to protect her from the brutality of the regime security officials carrying out the arrests.

The Khakzadegan social media account, run by a group of Ahwazi human rights activists based in London, reported that Nissi died on Monday, 14 December.

Sepideh Gholian, a prominent Iranian labour activist who was imprisoned for her reports on the Iranian regime’s violations of Ahwazi rights, mentioned Nissi in a series of recent Tweets recalling the horrific torture and relentless abuse of Ahwazis by Iranian regime personnel which she saw during her incarceration in Sepidar Prison; Gholian was imprisoned there after providing sympathetic coverage of protests by sugarcane workers in Ahwaz over their salaries being unpaid for six months.

Gholian, a long-time civil rights activist, wrote about the Ahwazi women in Sepidar being subjected to torture to force them into making false confessions or simply to terrorise them, and about the horrendous effect of this abuse on the women’s bodies, emphasising that they were dehumanised and tortured with inhuman cruelty due to their “Arab and female” identity”.   

“One of the women who suffered through these tortures is named Makia Nissi”, Gholian wrote, adding, “Makia’s husband disappeared in October 2018 and has been missing since, and nobody has any knowledge of his whereabouts”.

Gholian said that the regime’s infamous intelligence ministry had informed Makia, a mother of three young children, and her family, most of whom had been detained solely to force her husband to give himself up, that none of them would be released until he handed himself in. Even if he did so, Gholian noted, this would automatically mean his death and would have been unlikely to secure the release of his wife or of any of her family members.

Gholian warned repeatedly that, as well as enduring unspeakably dire conditions, torture and abuse at the hand of the regime guards, Makia was desperately trying to make whatever money she could by selling goods inside the prison in order to provide food for her children, who were living in the care of her only remaining free family member, a sister who was struggling financially.

Gholian voiced outrage at the regime’s abuses of Makia Nissi, stating that the authorities’ negligence towards Nissi’s children, the imprisonment of her family members, and the physical and mental abuse, torture and months of solitary confinement she endured were all forms of torture. 

In addition to dealing with all these traumatic events, Makia also reportedly suffered from Crohn’s disease, for which she should have received medicine and monthly blood transfusions; instead, the prison clinic issued her with generic painkillers which were woefully inadequate (this is the regime prisons’ standard response to every medical complaint, up to and including advanced cancer). Her already poor health was further aggravated by the dire, unsanitary and overcrowded conditions in the prison and by deliberate medical negligence, with warders reportedly placing her in quarantine only a short time before her death, despite other prisoners pleading for help for her when she complained of severe stomach ache, a high temperature, constant coughing and intense pain which reportedly drove her to scream in agony. Despite her obvious suffering, her cellmates reported, prison warders accused her of playing ill and showered her with abuse, refusing to provide any medical help and dumping her in an isolation cell where she died.

Gholian revealed that during her time in Sepidar, whilst she was relatively safe from torture due to her status as a Persian Iranian, she witnessed the Ahwazi female activists who were her friends and cellmates being subjected to continuous, systematic torture throughout her detention. Among the most common methods of torture used by the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence personnel against Ahwazis and other ethnic minorities in Iran are beatings, electric shocks, and all types of physical and psychological abuse, along with relentless racist insults about Ahwazis’ Arab ethnicity. 

Two weeks before this, Khakzadegan reported, another woman had been executed in the prison. The group said that, according to sources in Ahwaz, the woman had been working as a healer, providing people with traditional medical treatment in exchange for money, when one of the people whom she was treating died.

As a result, she was arrested and charged, despite the lack of any evidence, with premeditated murder.

Sepidar is known as an infamously brutal prison amongst the Ahwazi people of Ahwaz, with Gholian writing a memoir about her detention there last year in which she documented the horrendous racist abuse of Ahwazi women in the jail and the humiliation they are subjected to by the regime. During the winter, she revealed, female prisoners in Sepidar are deprived of access to heating and warm water for bathing, being forced to shower in freezing cold water, often leading to illness, whilst in summer prison staff cut the water and electricity supply while the searing temperatures regularly hit 50o C. 

Regime personnel also deny female prisoners phone calls and refuse to provide them with clean water or improve the food, which is mostly thin lentil soup or dry bread and cucumber, leading to numerous medical ailments resulting from malnutrition.

The overcrowded conditions and non-existent sanitation in Iran’s prisons mean that a number of prisoners have already died of coronavirus in the worst prisons in Ahwaz region, Sepidar and Sheyban, with most of those who died being refused permission to leave the prison for treatment, even with an escort. When prisoners in the two jails protested at the conditions, the regime responded by torturing the protesters, shooting some dead and burning others alive in their cells.

Ahwazi activists have been documenting the Iranian regime’s crimes against the Ahwazi people both within and without its borders, but the regime’s crimes against Ahwazi women go beyond even the other depredations committed for decades. The regime is in breach of its international commitments, and defies fundamental morality itself. And since the regime is only escalating its crimes, the international community must abide by its own legal obligations and take direct legal action against the regime. This must stop.

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

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