The Iranian regime has accelerated its campaign of brutality and arbitrary arrests against Ahwazis, detaining over 1,000 in recent weeks, including children aged between 10 and 15, women, and elderly people aged over 76According to activists in the Ahwaz region in the south and southwest of Iran, the regime forces are targeting not only dissidents but their families and random individuals in an effort to silence dissent and intimidate the people into abandoning their calls for freedom and human rights.
On November 6, the regime security forces arrested a 24-year-old female Ahwazi student named Ameneh Zaheri Sari, along with her 22-year-old brother Amin, and their 57-year-old father Hattab. The arrests are believed to be an effort by the regime to blackmail Ameneh and Amin’s older brother Mohammad Zaheri Sari, a political dissident and freedom activist now living in exile in Austria.
Talking about the arrests of his father and siblings, Mohammad said, “The IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps] intelligence service called my father and my brother Amin and told them to come to the Imam Ali IRGC intelligence headquarters in Ahwaz city; when they went there on November 5, they were arrested. My two sisters at home were really worried after one day passed and Amin and Dad didn’t come home or even call my sisters to let them know what was going on, so my younger sister Ameneh decided to go the Imam Ali IRGC intelligence HQ herself to ask – but as soon as she arrived there the regime agents arrested her too. For a week now, we haven’t heard anything about my father, my brother and my sister.”
Mohammed said that his family have been targeted by the regime for years, with his mother died a few years ago as a result of a stroke which he said was induced largely by the trauma of his arrest by regime agents in a raid on the family home, when he was detained for participating in cultural activities.Having experienced the torture in the regime’s secretive ‘black site’ torture prisons himself, Mohammad is desperately worried for his father and siblings, adding that his father has numerous health issues, including hypertension and severe asthma for which he requires medication and an inhaler, none of which are available in regime prisons.
“Three members of my family are now in a secret prison and I’m worried sick about their health and fear that the regime will torture and abuse them,” he said. “They’ve done nothing wrong, but the regime wants to use them to pressure me to stop my human rights activism and political activities here. I’m calling on all human rights organizations like Amnesty and Human Rights Watch to urge the Iranian regime authorities to release my family and all other innocent Ahwazi citizens.”
As if the latest arrests weren’t traumatic enough, Mohammad is also worried about his other brother, Ali, another civil rights activist and freedom supporter, who’s been imprisoned for his activism.
Voicing concern for his sister Ameneh, Mohammed said, “My sister is 24-year-old; she is studying at university and she has many exams coming up, she must be released to pursue her education now, I am very worried about her and the ill-treatment that she is facing at the regime’s hands.”
Mohammad also expressed frustration at the lack of international support for Ahwazi dissidents compared to the concern for Palestinians, adding that the Iranian regime cynically exploits the Palestinian cause for kudos, even while treating Ahwazis with equal inhumanity to that shown by Israel to Palestinians.
“Why do people who – rightly – support Palestinians never show any solidarity with Ahwazis who are abused even worse than Palestinians?” he asked. “Hypocrites!”
While Iranian regime officials, most notably the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, daily condemn Israel’s crimes and injustices against the Palestinian people, saving particular outrage for the detention of women, which Khamenei has called the most heinous and cowardly of crimes, Ahwazis, who see their own sisters, mothers and daughters routinely subjected to intimidation, racist anti-Arab abuse, sexual harassment, detention and torture by regime security forces, view the regime’s ‘principled stance’ with a jaundiced eye.
Mohammad contrasted the world’s silence at the Iranian regime’s arrest of his sister and other Ahwazi women and girls with the media outcry at Israel’s arrest of the Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi whose eight-month sentence for slapping an Israeli soldier drew international media condemnation. While making it clear that he, like all Ahwazis, wholeheartedly supports Palestinian freedom, feeling solidarity with all oppressed peoples, Mohammad voiced frustration at the same media lauding the Iranian regime, even as it arrests Ahwazi girls and women on a daily basis, while ignoring the suffering of its victims.
“Let’s say, ‘Ahed Tamimi slapped an Israeli soldier and maybe that was an excuse for her arrest, but what’s the reason and excuse for arresting my sister Ameneh, or Sabha Lamya Hammadi [a civil society activist detained by the regime] who’s pregnant or other Ahwazi women?” Mohammad asked.
Sabha Hammadi was arrested on October 6 in a raid by the regime forces on her family’s home in the city of Khafajiyeh; although she was briefly allowed to call her family on the day of her arrest, they have heard nothing from her since then, with the regime officials refusing to disclose any information about her whereabouts or condition.
Ameneh Zaheri Sari and Sabha Hammadi are only two of the women arrested recently by the regime. Others include Zoudieh Afrawi and Gheysieh Afrawi, two women from Khafajiyeh city who were both arrested by the regime security forces in raids on their homes on October 22. According to reports from Amnesty, both women’s children had been arrested in earlier raids a week before they were detained. Zoudieh and Gheysieh both contacted relatives in the week after their arrest and said they were being held by the regime’s notorious Ministry of Intelligence. Their families have heard nothing from them since then.
Mohammad expressed anger at the Iranian regime’s cynical hypocrisy over Israeli crimes against Palestinians and at the world’s double standards. “The regime blames Arab countries in the region for not taking action against Israel’s abuse of Palestinian prisoners, especially girls and women in Israeli prisons; they describe the Arabs’ silence and inaction as a disgrace – but the regime’s been exploiting the Palestinian cause for years and doing the same thing to Ahwazis! I call on these media on the Palestine activists to come and read about and find out about the Iranian regime’s crimes and see what crimes and abuses the regime inflicts on Ahwazi men, women and children. The regime says ‘Palestinian women are our honor’ – so what about Ahwazi women? What have they done to be abused like this? Ahwazi women and girls of all ages, like their Palestinian sisters, demand their right to freedom, to human rights, to justice in their own nation. How come, if a Palestinian woman does this she’s a heroine, but if an Ahwazi woman does it she’s labeled as evil and subjected to torture, rape, imprisonment?”
In another case, also on November 8, the regime security personnel arrested an Ahwazi civil rights activist, 29-year-old Yousef Sawari, in a brutal night-time raid on his family’s home in the city of Abu- Homeyzah where he lives with his parents, as well as his wife and children. Sawari’s family members were reportedly forced to watch helplessly as masked the regime agents beat him and forced him to undress before dragging him out of the house blindfolded and clad only in his underwear. He was taken to an unknown location.
Not content with brutalizing Yousef Sawari, the regime agents also attacked his elderly parents, 76-year-old Mehdi Sawari and his wife Nasima aged 65, who were both viciously beaten. Another regime agent recorded this shocking abuse on his cell phone camera, as the regime agents forced the traumatized elderly couple to issue verbal condemnations of their other son, Issa Sawari, an exiled dissident who works for a television channel, Ahwazna, based in the Netherlands.
Speaking about the shocking abuse of his brother and parents, Issa Sawari said that the regime is waging psychological warfare against Ahwazi activists in exile, sending them a message that it will terrorize their family members back home to force exiles to abandon their opposition and stop exposing the regime’s crimes. “They’re telling us, ‘If you continue [opposing the regime] we’ll retaliate against your families by getting them fired from their jobs, suspended from the university, torturing and imprisoning them; we’ll beat your parents and arrest your sisters,’” he said.
The regime is growing more blatant in its attacks on Ahwazis and other minorities and dissidents in Iran as pressure mounts from the US sanctions, with the Danish police last week uncovering another assassination plot by regime agents against three Ahwazi exiles now living in Denmark.
Ahwazi activists have urged European governments and human rights to take action to protect dissidents and raise awareness of the regime’s brutality and crimes domestically and internationally in order to put pressure on the regime and prevent further attacks.
In addition to these attacks, the regime has also reportedly deployed large numbers of troops and security personnel in towns, cities, and villages across the Ahwaz region as a means of intimidating the people and preventing protests which the regime fears may break out as public anger grows over deteriorating conditions and widespread arrests.
Many in the region have reported that the regime’s forces are being assisted by masked Arab militiamen speaking Arabic with a Lebanese accent; activists suggest that this confirms that the regime is using its Hezbollah proxies within Iran as well as elsewhere in the region in its efforts to terrorize Ahwazis as they’ve already done to Syrians, with Hezbollah now notorious across the region for its murderous brutality and crimes against humanity against fellow Arabs in the service of the Iranian regime.
By: Rahim Hamid, a freelance journalist and human rights advocate