The Iranian Revolutionary Court has sentenced three Ahwazi activists to 40 years imprisonment for burning an image of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. The rights group noted that the three young men were arrested during popular demonstrations in November 2019 that swept across Ahwazi and Iranian cities.
According to Ahwazi human rights groups, 19-year-old Qusay Khasraji, 20-year-old Sajjad Dabat (20 years) and 23-year-old Raad Hamdani, were originally arrested by the Iranian security services in November 2019 in the city of Susa (Shush) in north Ahwaz.
The Ahwazi human rights sources confirmed that the three young Ahwazi men were tried in the Revolutionary Court in Qunaitra (Dezful) on charges of setting fire to an image of Iranian leader Ali Khamenei, ‘threatening national security’ and ‘enmity to God’, with Khasraji and Dabat each sentenced to 10 years in prison, and Raad Hamdani sentenced to 20 years imprisonment. They are currently detained in the prison of Masjed Soliman, east of Ahwaz. Human rights sources noted that the three young men were subjected to the most severe physical and psychological torture in detention by the Iranian intelligence services for several months.
Human rights activists from Ahwaz reported on social media that the Iranian authorities had prevented the three youths from accessing a lawyer, noting that “the hearing in the activists’ case was held in the presence of an ‘alternative’ lawyer chosen by the court, with the three prisoners being denied their right to a fair trial as set out under the laws and protocols of human rights to protect prisoners’ rights.”
On Friday, 15 November, 2019, after the announcement of a 50% increase in gasoline prices, mass protests broke out in all Iranian provinces and cities, including Ahwazi cities, with Iranian regime security forces reacting brutally, using firearms to terrorise the demonstrators. Regime snipers were stationed on government buildings’ roofs, killing and wounding hundreds of demonstrators in the protests across Iran, including Ahwazis.
The regime’s murderous repression and overt racism towards Ahwazis is not a new feature, with human rights organisations and international media outlets reporting many instances of severe brutality towards peaceful protesters in Ahwaz, including the 2019 massacre in the city of Ma’shour, in which the IRGC and other security forces killed 148 people.
Earlier, Reuters quoted government sources in Iran as saying that the number of people killed in the protests across Iran was about 1,500, including 17 teenagers and 400 women.
Reuters reported that three sources close to the Supreme Leader had confirmed that the security forces, on the order of the Supreme Leader and other senior regime officials, had launched the bloodiest crackdown against demonstrators since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Reuters explained that the figures cited in its report, released by sources close to the regime were based on “information gathered from the security forces, morgues, hospitals and coroner’s offices”. Since the regime invariably issues false figures, massively undercounting the number of its victims, the real figure is likely to be far higher.
Prior to the 2019 protests, the Governor of north Ahwaz (Khuzestan), Gholam-Reza Shariati had earlier announced protest marches in 15 cities in the province. Official sources also confirmed the arrest of 180 people in Ahwaz (Khuzestan). However, Ahwazi sources pointed out that the number of people detained exceeded 1,000, particularly in the cities of Ma’shour, Susa, and the regional capital Ahwaz city, whose residents were subjected to a savage crackdown by regime forces, with raids on homes by regime security personnel in order to arrest human rights and cultural activists, with many of those arrested being simply bystanders.
During the 2019 uprising, the Iranian government cut off the internet to prevent citizens from monitoring internal developments across the country and completely cut off news about the massacres and brutal attacks launched by the regime from reaching the outside world. According to reliable reports, in Ahwaz alone, at least 180 protesters were killed in 15 cities across the region, including 148 people in Ma’shour and 7 people in Susa.
According to reports published on social media and eyewitness testimonies from inside Ahwaz, the regime’s so-called Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and security forces committed bloody crimes in Ahwazi cities by using excessive and lethal force to crush the peaceful protests.
The Iranian authorities deliberate use of massively excessive military force against peaceful Ahwazi protestors qualifies as a crime against humanity. Senior regime’s officials, including Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the Interior Minister, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and a number of military commanders, issued statements describing the protesters as ” villains” and gave the security forces the green light to crush the demonstrations. This indicates that the Iranian authorities knowingly planned to confront peaceful demonstrations through violence, killing, state terror and mass arrests.
The Iranian security forces and IRGC committed a heinous massacre in the city of Ma’shour, Ahwaz, on 17 November 2019, which killed 148 people, including women and teenagers, when a large number of Ahwazi citizens participated in peaceful demonstrations calling for an end to Iranian policies to marginalise and impoverish the Ahwazi people.
International organisations and official figures worldwide condemned the crime committed by the Iranian regime forces in Ma’shour, Susa and other Ahwazi cities in 2019. Brian Hook, the former US Special Representative for Iran, denounced the massacre, saying that the Iranian regime had killed a large number of people, as well as wounding dozens more and detaining hundreds.
The United States sanctioned two of the perpetrators of the massacre in Ma’shor, including Police Chief of Khuzestan Brigadier General Heydar Abbas-Zadeh and IRGC Colonel Reza Papi, who were identified as the main culprits in the bloody massacre.
“We will not forget the crimes of these agents against innocent people,” wrote US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Twitter. Pompeo said that Brigadier General Heydar Abbas-Zadeh and IRGC Colonel Reza Papi involved in gross human rights violations, notably the blatant denial of the right to life in connection with the security forces’ violent suppression of protests in November 2019 in north Ahwaz.
There is no doubt that the policy of suppressing and persecuting Ahwazis is an integral part of Iran’s policy. Since the uprising in 2005 in Ahwaz and the Arab Spring in 2011, crimes against Ahwazis have increased significantly. According to Ahwazi human rights reports, Iran’s regime has executed and imprisoned hundreds of Ahwazi activists in the period since 2011 and the present day due to their cultural and human rights activities.
The rapidly escalating Iranian crimes and violations in Ahwaz show that Iran is very clearly violating international law, with Amnesty International’s report confirming that regime forces opened fire on unarmed protesters in the 2019 massacre, killing hundreds of people.
The reason for the Iranian regime’s increased repression in Ahwaz is that the regime fears another uprising in Ahwazi cities due to injustice and tyranny and because the crises that caused the last mass protests across Ahwaz and the whole of Iran have worsened in the period since, with the people of Ahwaz facing multiple crises including inflation, corruption, human rights violations, impoverishment and displacement. Rather than attempting to deescalate the situation by reducing violence and reaching out to Ahwazis, the Iranian regime supports its intelligence and security services to intensify the state terror against the people there, particularly activists or anyone else demanding their fundamental human rights.
It should also be noted that the Iranian regime has stepped up its brutal and repressive clampdown on cities on the Ahwaz region’s border with Iraq such as Susa in its effort to quell potential uprisings there, launching raids to arrest a large number of civil societies, human rights and cultural activists.
Therefore, the Iranian regime sentenced these three young Ahwazis who were arrested in November 2019 on flimsy charges, depriving them of their most fundamental rights, such as the right to a lawyer and a fair trial. It should be noted that denying detainees the right to a lawyer for detainees is a violation of Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, issued on 16 December 1966.
Speaking about the latest sentences against the three young men, Scottish writer and editor Ruth Riegler called the sentences “grotesque”. “The ‘crime’ of these young men was to set light to a poster, one which showed a leader whose miserable, murderous totalitarian theocracy has been responsible for blighting their region and nation, impoverishing their lives and ravaging much of the Middle East. For that, they were tortured for months, subjected to a kangaroo trial, and imprisoned for a total of 40 years, charged with ‘enmity to God’ – what an evil and truly obscene joke and an insult to God, whatever we call Him.
“All young Ahwazis and all peoples want is freedom, dignity, hope, real democracy, a decent future for them and their families those fundamental universal rights supposedly guaranteed by the UNDHR. And they’re denied those things by monstrous old megalomaniac bigots living in the seventh century who really are no different from ISIS. It’s one of the terrible ironies – Iran’s regime claims to be fighting ISIS. However, in reality, it’s just ISIS in different turbans, abusing and exploiting Islam to impose clerical rule by terror and expansion across the region, silencing dissidents with torture and murder, cynically exploiting Palestine as a figleaf, depicting itself as standing for the oppressed while being a merciless, murderous oppressor, and of representing ‘resistance’. In contrast, the only thing it resists, in reality, are freedom, dignity and human decency.
How can the Western powers claim to represent civilised values or respect for human rights when they continue rationalising and legitimising this evil, medieval barbarism in the 21st century?”
Reported by Kamil Alboshoka and 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.