Concerns are growing for the well-being of two of the Ahwazi Arab women who were detained along with hundreds of other protesters by the Iranian regime security personnel during a recent demonstration against the regime’s racist persecution of the Ahwazi Arab people.Two young women, Ezzat Ka’abi and Nadia Mohammadi Pour, both from Ahwaz city, were arrested three weeks ago in the early hours of March 31 during anti-regime protests in the city, the capital of the region known in Farsi as Khuzestan. Their desperately worried families have been seeking information on their whereabouts ever since their arrest with no success, with all the relevant regime police and security departments refusing to disclose any information or even to tell their parents if they are still alive. According to the Ahwazi rights groups, four other young women were arrested along with Ka’abi and Pour, with the others being named as 19-year-old university student Ayesheh Neysi, Khadija Niysi, Khalidiya Tarfi and Laila Barwaia.
The number of arbitrary detentions of activists has risen in recent months as the regime attempts to crush a wave of public anger over worsening persecution and deteriorating conditions in the already desperately poor province. Human rights activists in the region are worried that those detained are likely to be subjected to torture in detention, with reports that regime personnel randomly select a number of detainees in the infamous Sheyban Prison every day to take to a nearby intelligence agency detention center for torture. Karim Dahimi, an Ahwazi rights activist based in London reports, since the latest large protest on April 30, regime security forces have transferred around 250 of those detained to Sheyban Prison where they’re being held in a unit separate from the other prisoners and prevented from contacting their relatives or hiring any defense lawyers. One of the prisoners, AbdulDuraqi, a prominent poet, and cultural activist was arrested and has been hospitalized after torture sessions at the hands of interrogators of the Intelligence service. One of his family members who wished to remain anonymous told the Great Middle East that Duraqi was admitted to Ahwaz’s Sepidar hospital on April 7 due to the severe deterioration in his physical condition after relentless torture in the Ahwaz intelligence center.
Three bodies of individuals arrested during recent protests have already reportedly been found dumped at the roadside in villages near the capital, with all showing clear signs of torture. State media have not reported any of the deaths.
The largest of the recent protests began in Ahwaz on March 30, with hundreds of people taking to the streets for peaceful demonstrations against the racist persecution and marginalization of the country’s Arab population; these protests quickly spread to other towns and cities across the region, including Mahshor, Hamidiyeh, Sheyban, Muhammarah and Abadan. Resentment is growing at the regime’s brutal oppression of the Arab population, especially amongst younger Ahwazis. Despite housing more than 95 percent of the oil and gas resources claimed by Iran, Ahwaz is the poorest region in the country, with its people denied the same rights as ethnically Persian citizens resettled there by the government and given jobs withheld from the indigenous Arabs.
Ahwaz was historically called Arabistan meaning lands of Arabs and was independent of Iran, and was annexed by the Shah of Iran, Reza Pahlavi, whose forces invaded in 1925. After overthrowing and murdering Sheikh Khazaal, the last Arab ruler of Arabistan, Reza Pahlavi initiated a program of Persianization by enforcing Farsi as the official language and banning the teaching of Arabic in schools. In 1936 Arabistan was renamed as Khuzestan to further alienate it from its Arab identity.
Despite high rates of graduate unemployment amongst Ahwazis, Persian-Iranians are offered inducements to move to the region, including well-paid jobs in the oil and gas sector, generous subsidies, and homes in specially built settlements provided with amenities denied to the local Arab peoples, who are even forbidden from speaking their own Arab language.
As the protests on March 30 continued into the early hours of the following morning, the regime security forces responded with their customary brutality, initially arresting at least 26 protesters, including three women before launching a massive campaign of arrests which has so far led to the detention of over 400 people, with some estimating the total at over 500, including at least 15 children aged between 11 and 15. A number of parents and other family members of the detained protesters were also arrested when they went to local police stations to inquire about their loved ones’ whereabouts. Regime security and intelligence services are particularly targeting civil rights activists and campaigners who are suspected of playing a role in mobilizing the recent protests, with many arrested in raids on their homes late at night or early in the morning.
One of the protesters arrested at the recent demonstration, a retired teacher named Said FakhrNaseb, was released for urgent medical treatment on Wednesday (April 26) on bail of five billion Iranian rials (around US $80,000) after his health deteriorated due to severe torture. He is currently in a critical condition and receiving treatment for the injuries he sustained during torture in the intensive care unit of the Baqa’i Military Hospital in Ahwaz. There are also reports that an activist identified as 32-year-old Sajad Zaiab Sawarihas reportedly been subjected to severe torturethat his ribs have been fractured by agents of the regime’s infamous Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) at their local intelligence division headquarters in Abu Fadl al-Abbas, where he’s been held since April 5.
Meanwhile, the regime has released a young deaf and disabled man, Said Nemati, who was amongst those detained at the March 30 demonstration, with a number of marks on his body showing that he was subjected to torture. Ahwazi rights groups further revealed that the arrests are still ongoing, with another activist, Saeed Fakhr of the Ahwazi ‘Identity Movement’ civil rights group in Ahwaz, arrested last Thursday in a raid on his home in the Kemplo neighbourhood of Ahwaz city by regime intelligence agents who reportedly gave no reason for their actions and provided no arrest warrant. Fakhr is believed to have been targeted by the regime for his efforts to help trace other activists detained over the recent demonstrations and for participating in peaceful vigils with detainees’ families outside local police stations where the family members protested to demand the release of their loved ones.
An Arab MP in the Iranian parliament Jawad al-Baji, did confirm in statements to the state-owned ‘Etemad’ newspaper that the regime security authorities had arrested 150 demonstrators in the city of Ahwaz alone, withthe calling for the immediate release of all the detainees, stressing that the protests were civil in nature, peaceful and lawful, and adding that there was no justification for the arrest campaigns.
Although Ahwazi activists and human rights groups have repeatedly reached out to international human rights bodies including Amnesty International to help raise awareness of the horrendous injustices inflicted on the people of the region by Iran’s regime, they have received no response, although the same bodies do work with larger Iranian dissident organizations.
By Rahim Hamid
Ahwazi Arab freelance journalist and human rights advocate who mainly writes about the plight of his people in Iran.