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Iran’s shoot-to-kill policy in Ahwaz ignored by international community

Two types of extrajudicial execution are favoured by the Iran regime, particularly against the Ahwazi population in the south and southwest of the country. While execution by hanging is, by now, well known to the international community, a lesser-known method of killing, generally ignored by the media is extrajudicial execution by shooting of young men as they pass through checkpoints. These unarmed young people are shot dead at close range using various pretexts, all of them simply excuses for cold-blooded murder, without having committed any crimes or being subject to any trial. The result is the same in both cases – the devastation of an entire generation of young Ahwazis.

 On Friday, 26 March, two young Ahwazi men from the city of Susa (also known as Shush) in the Ahwaz region, were fatally injured and died after being shot by Basij militias (plainclothes militias infamous for their violence) affiliated with the regime’s so-called Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), with both dying shortly after their arrival at the hospital. Witnesses reported that both men were murdered in cold blood. The murdered youths were identified as 17-year-old Ebrahim Atshani and 24-year-old Mostafa Hargani. Both were unarmed and had committed no crime.

A source familiar with the incident told DUSC:

“These citizens, who were riding a motorcycle on Friday evening, were crossing a street where a courthouse, a religious seminary and the Basiji base are located; without warning, suddenly, the Basiji forces began shooting at the motorcycle after they passed a checkpoint erected in the middle of the street. Ebrahim Atshani was severely injured in his legs and abdomen in the attack, while Mostafa Hargani was wounded in his shoulder and died of severe bleeding. The teenager, Atshani lost his life after his leg was amputated from his knee down in a hospital on the afternoon of Saturday, 27 March.”

Mostafa Hargani reportedly appeared to be capable of recovering from his injuries when he was taken to the hospital, but it appears he sustained too much blood loss to survive, dying on Saturday night. Local people reported that the Basiji forces had gathered around the bodies of the two young men following the shooting as the victims lay on the ground, searching both without finding any suspicious objects or weapons that might justify the cold-blooded extrajudicial executions.

The local eye-witnesses who rushed to the scene reported on social media accounts that the two young men were murdered in cold blood. For 45 minutes after the attack, witnesses said, the Basiji thugs did not allow anyone to take the two innocent young men to the hospital, allowing their condition to become too advanced to save their lives.

Even this cruelty was apparently not sufficient for the regime’s killers, with the two young men’s parents reporting that their sons were tortured brutally in the ambulance on their way to the hospital. In revenge for the families revealing the horrific abuse inflicted on their murdered sons, the regime forces arrested family members on Monday, threatening them with further violence and warning them not to ask for any medical autopsy or issue any complaints or talk with Ahwazi media in exile.

Witnesses said the Basiji forces only seized two Samsung phones and the wallets from Ebrahim and Mostafa’s pockets and nothing else.

In the wake of the murder of the two young men, the regime authorities claimed that both were armed separatists affiliated with Ahwazi opposition movements in exile. Even the two young men’s family denied these patently false ‘ready-made’ excuses used to cover up the killing of their sons and countless other young Ahwazis, with dozens of witnesses at the scene in a busy thoroughfare insisting that both men were unarmed, and Ahwazi groups confirming that neither was involved in any armed resistance.

It’s known that Ebrahim Atshani was previously detained by security forces during the protests in November 2019 and was later released on bail for a pending trial; this is common for any Ahwazis taking place in demonstrations against the regime.

Such brutal attacks on Ahwazi citizens by Iran’s military and security forces are not uncommon’ indeed, they’re a terrible norm, taking place in towns, villages and cities in the region  leaving hundreds of Ahwazi citizens permanently disabled or dead.

DUSC has investigated all the documented cases of the Ahwazi victims extrajudicially shot and murdered by the security and Basiji forces in recent years, finding that:

1: In all the cases of victims being killed by regime forces,  despite the victims being unarmed,  the attacks went uninvestigated and unpunished by Iranian regime authorities. The families of the victims usually have no recourse to justice or any hope of redress, with any effort to obtain compensation or even acknowledgement likely to result in the complainant being arrested and often ‘disappeared’. Many do not even get to find out what exactly happened to their loved ones. 

2: The majority of victims pursued and unlawfully killed by Iranian regime forces have been using motorcycles, the only form of transport affordable for young Ahwazis, who risk their lives simply by passing through the numerous checkpoints erected randomly in all Ahwazi neighbourhoods, cities, towns and villages, with many attempting to try to escape so that they won’t be forced to pay bribes to the Basiji and security forces who threaten to confiscate the motorcyclists’ bikes, which they rely on for work as well as for all other transport needs.

3: The Basiji and security forces erect the checkpoints not to control the crime but use it as an extortion method to force the motorcyclists to pay bribes to them.

4: The majority or possibly all the victims killed posed no threat, let alone a life-threatening danger to the regime forces who targeted them.  Article 7 of Iran’s Law on the Use of Weapons by Officers of the Armed Forces states in urgent cases: “Officers subject to this law must target the feet of person as much as possible when using weapons and take care that their actions do not lead to death, and to ensure that third parties who are not involved must not be harmed. ” The commentary accompanying this article also states that “the care and wellbeing of the injured is the responsibility of law enforcement officers and they [the injured] must be taken to medical centers as soon as possible.”

Despite this, however, regime armed forces routinely violate this article by shooting indiscriminately at victims, often hitting their heads, hearts or spinal cord. After wounding their victims, as the above example illustrates, the regime personnel take no responsibility to save the lives of the wounded persons if they don’t die on the spot, allowing them to bleed often for long periods; most Ahwazis suspect that this is a deliberate policy, with the security services fully aware that They let the victims die to leave no one to challenge their claims and the accusations that they used after finding nothing dangerous.

5: Victims’ family members are arrested and threatened if they file complaints about the police and Basili forces terrorising and killing their loved ones. The families receive no explanation or apology for the victims’ killing or any details on what crime they were suspected of. There has been no investigation into the death of any of the victims.

6: At checkpoints, set up in poor and marginalised areas of Ahwaz, small cars and most young motorcyclists are stopped by police or Basiji forces who demand a bribe to let them pass through.

One of the local in Susa city told DUSC: “They [the police or Basiji forces] stop all vehicles and take money according to their mood and the appearance of the motorcyclists or the model of cars. Cars pay less than motorcyclists because there is little chance, regardless of the high speed, to force them to pay, but the majority of people in Ahwazi areas use motorcycles as a cheap transportation to go shopping and run their daily errands. The Basiji forces even get motorcyclists’ wallets and search them to see how much money they have inside. If anyone moves, or try to escape they shoot him at very close range.”

To avoid such trouble, desperate citizens often bring their sister, partner or children to ride pillion, making the regime forces more hesitant about shooting.

Ahwazi rights groups also reported that Iranian regime forces have adopted a new strategy in addition to these usual lethal forms of harassment, using their state-issued vehicles to run over young Ahwazis in the dead of night, leaving them for dead and believing they’ve got away with the crime since nobody would be around to see it.  This was seen on 23 March this year when police vehicles chased two young Ahwazi men on a motorcycle near the Saaedi river in the city of Falahieyeh, 16-year-old Abbas Al-Khdirawi and 27-year-old Jalal Al-Amiri. Seizing the opportunity of being so close to the motorcycle, the officers in the police cars toppled the motorcycle over and ran over it and over the two victims, killing both before fleeing the scene. The families of the two young men who had done nothing wrong don’t know why their sons died. The regime is more likely to persecute the family for asking questions than to provide any answer or apology, despite the enormity of the crime exceeding all the permissible boundaries.

Following this gruesome crime, the police took the two young men’s bodies and dumped them on a road near the river, leaving the two young men to die there and refusing to even call an ambulance to rescue them. It seems that the Iranian regime police understandably felt confident that there would be no investigation, and they could simply murder two more young Ahwazis without question or reason, once again showing their chilling indifference to murdering innocent people. 

Local people who witnessed the Basiji forces chasing the murdered young men chased the vehicles and rushed to try to save the lives of the two youths, but they were too late.  This crime, like all the preceding crimes of firing live ammunition at young Ahwazis simply for passing through checkpoints or even just because the officer feels like it will go unpunished. The Iranian regime gives carte blanche to its military and security personnel to shoot on sight, turning these personnel into judge, jury and executioner able to randomly kill innocent people with impunity without the faintest hint of accountability.

Such killings are committed in almost every month of the year. According to Ahwazi human rights sources, the regime’s infamous plainclothes Basiji, shot and killed a civilian identified as Maher Heidari, aged 37, in cold blood, as well as injuring one of the passengers in his car a few weeks ago on 5 March in cold blood in the regional capital, Ahwaz; as usual, no reason was given for this extrajudicial assassination.

Maher Heidari was a married businessman and resident of Golestan neighbourhood in Ahwaz city; he was reportedly driving to the Aldayreh neighbourhood that morning with two employees when his car was stopped by intelligence forces who opened direct fire at the vehicle without warning at close range.

According to local witnesses, Maher and the two men were shot by Basiji thugs who have recently begun setting up checkpoints in and around marginalised neighbourhoods of the Ahwaz city, which is the region’s capital. So far, nobody knows the reason behind that deliberate shooting, but the car was checked for any suspicious materials, with nothing being found.

In the Ahwaz region, security forces have a green light from the highest levels of Tehran’s leadership to open fire against anyone they deem ‘suspicious’, day or night, with the regime enforcing brutal security measures against all cultural, political and social activities involving Ahwazis.

Heidari was not the first to be killed in this way this year, with January and February seeing four similar killings by the Basiji of young Ahwazi men, all on motorcycles, all unarmed, and all shot dead at close range.

The first to be murdered was 25-year-old Mohammed Zarqani, who was shot in the head at close range while riding his motorbike in Al-Zarqan neighbourhood of Ahwaz city.

According to local people, Mohammed was returning from grocery shopping, with three bags containing okra, cucumber and other vegetables. As always, there was no punishment for the murder, with the Basiji, like all Iran’s official forces and proxy militias, enjoying total impunity.

In January, the Basiji and other regime forces shot and killed three more young motorcyclists, named as 30-year-old Nabi Helfi, Sayed Rasoul Hosseini and Ebrahim Hazbawi, in Howeizeh and Falahiyeh under equally flimsy pretexts and justifications.

The regime’s deliberate impoverishment of the Ahwazi population in the Ahwaz region in the south and southwest Iran leaves most young Ahwazis keen, like all young people, to learn to drive and have some independence, with few transport choices apart from motorcycles and scooters.

Young men especially are aware that police are likely to target them using any excuse and often to confiscate their bikes, which are essential to their everyday lives, both for work and recreation, resulting in demands for ‘fines’ or simply massive bribes to return them – money that Ahwazis simply don’t have. As a result, when they run into one of the regime’s many impromptu checkpoints or see police approaching them, they often automatically try to flee; police react to this by chasing them and savagely beating them before arrest if they’re caught, more especially if they don’t have the bribe money demanded, or often simply opening fire, either wounding or killing them. Excuses for this wildly disproportionate violence include the charge that the motorbike ‘didn’t have a number plate’.

There is no punishment for these attacks on young Ahwazis, whose only ‘crime’ is to be in the wrong place at the wrong time; indeed, the most vicious police and Basiji members are often promoted for their murderous brutality in the name of rewarding their diligence in the performance of their duties.

 

 

By Rahim Hamid

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

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